Henry James's Daisy Miller

The Struggle for Female Liberation in "Daisy Miller"

The story Daisy Miller by Henry James features a female protagonist whose beliefs and actions go against the societal norms for women in the context of modern European society. The story features ethically dubious conflicts, particularly those between the society and those who try to stray from accepted norms. Daisy Miller is portrayed as a strong, independent woman who thinks for herself, which runs counter to expectations of the societal and cultural setting in which the story is set. She gradually makes an effort to show her independence and disregards societal norms. Daisy Miller embodies the struggle for female liberation from a social dynamic that is governed by repressive patriarchal social norms, expectations, and rules.

Daisy Miller’s Attempt to Fit in the Higher Class

The narrative Daisy Miller clearly describes an era that can be characterized as the time where the concept of travelling is associated with social mobility. The narrative presents characters that are able to travel to various destinations that have different social and cultural norms, hence, the ascription of wealth and knowledge which are attributes needed for social mobility. The narrative’s settings describe scenes of salons and parties that require the observation of refined mannerisms and adherence to formal social conventions.

The Importance of Authenticity in Daisy Miller's Transformation

While the narrative’s setting clearly alludes to a past era, the author’s intention is clear in the depiction of psychological issues that affect people in a social dynamics characterized by divisions on the basis of social class. Though the author does not denounce the order of class structures, he weaves empathy around the protagonist’s struggle to gain social mobility. In the attempt to remove herself from a social class that she was born in, Daisy creates a false persona and a version of self that is pitiful. The author is of the view that while it is necessary to change appearances for various reasons, changing persona should be an authentic process. The author achieves this goal through an elaborate and systemic development of the protagonist, Daisy Miller, in detail and makes sure that she remains immature.

Daisy Miller's Inability to Fit into High Society

The protagonist transitions from her original self as depicted through her “real name’s Annie P. Miller” (James 425). This transition is an indicator that she wishes to undergo complete transformation even at the cost of losing her original identity. The change of name indicates that an individual’s identity is a major factor in the social class within which she hopes to gain entry, hence, the reason for changing her name to Daisy Miller. However, she does not realize that changing names is not enough to gain entry into high society; one must demonstrate other refined and nuanced behavioral attributes that are essential in gaining credibility in higher social classes.

Daisy's Unsuccessful Attempt to Fit into High Society

Daisy Miller successfully imitates the dress code and acquires the taste for the higher classes in the European contemporary society, however, she is unable to escape her roots as she does not possess the refinement of the high society, especially since she is unable to acquire the refined manners and tastes of the individuals she hopes to befriend. In her attempt to fit in high society women’s surrounding, Daisy states that she is “very fond of society and I have always had a great deal of it” (James 426). However, the other women recognize that she is not what she claims to be since her mannerisms are coarse and uncouth. She is described by Winterbourne as “completely uncultivated… but she is very nice” (James 430). Unlike the women, Winterbourne is captivated by her and is ready to give her a chance contrary to the women.

The Futility of Daisy Miller's Attempted Change

Daisy’s ambition and attempts to change and gain access in the high society are unsuccessful. In her travels she contracts a disease that eventually causes her demise, however, her contracting a disease and subsequent death presents a deeper meaning that alludes to the futility of her actions. The author presents a scenario that alludes to the folly of attempting to chance oneself into someone that he or she is not. Essentially, true happiness cannot be attained by changing names or attempting to fit in in social dynamics that one does not belong to. The fact that Daisy Miller is presented as young woman who is yet to mature can be attributed to her failure in assimilating into the high society. She fails to recognize that in order to become a member of higher social class; she must change everything about herself without reverting to old habits or mannerisms. She fails to gain the needed understanding of her personal goals and appreciate the prevalent distinctions among the social classes. Hence, her insistence that she could not “change my habits for them” (James 450) illustrates her rigidity to change. In spite of her desire and attempts to change herself, she only succeeds in remaining her original self. Daisy’s desire to escape her social class and become another person causes her death.

The Impact of Social Norms on Daisy Miller

Despite Daisy Miller’s attempt to assert her individuality and independence, it is clear that social norms prevail against her as demonstrated by her death. Her failure to accept social rules, norms, and expectations causes her to be seen as an outcast incapable of preserving the social etiquette demanded by the class she attempts to gain access to. In her stubbornness, she hangs on to her independence and does not care for the consequences that she might face for her deviant behavior and attitude. She is described as “a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect” (James 456). The society categorically rejects her because of personal wielding of immoral motives; hence, anyone associating with her would be similarly construed as being equally guilty.


Daisy Miller is a narrative that describes the challenges of a woman attempting to bridge the gap between social classes. Her failure can be attributed to her unsuccessful attempt to adapt to social expectations, rules, and norms of the social class she hoped to gain entry to. Individualism in a social dynamics governed by rules is bound to fail. Though daisy was free, it is her freedom and rebellion against society that led to her death. The author effectively creates a young and immature character that attempts to fight the system by doing what she wants; however, she does not succeed in changing her social class or her personality as was be expected. Her roots and upbringing in the social class she was born in cannot allow her to make the needed concessions in behavior and mannerisms to secure her a place in high society. Instead she rejects any attempts of being subjected to social rules and practices. In a patriarchal social dynamic, she refuses to acknowledge the male sex as superior or act as a refined lady would be expected to act. It can be argued that her attempts were presented as uncouth and immature since she never intended to abandon her social class as indicated above.

Works Cited

James, Henry. “Daisy Miller”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume C: 1965-1914. (8th Ed.). Edited by Baym, Nina, Arnold Krupat and Jeanne Campbell Reesman, W.W. Norton and Company, 2007, pp. 421 -459.

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