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The Character of Daisy in Henry James’ Daisy Miller

What is the purpose of Daisy in the novel Daisy Miller by Henry James? Why did James create such a beguiling and bewildering character? Since the publication of James’s novel in 1878, Daisy has worn several labels, among them “flirt,” “innocent,” and “American Girl.” Daisy’s representation of an American Girl of the late 19th century is evident. Her free-spiritedness and individuality reflect the social movement of the American middle-class. The question of Daisy’s innocence, however, remains unanswered. One of the most interesting aspects about Daisy is her distance from the reader. The reader is not given access to Daisy’s inner thoughts or emotions. Instead, the reader must observe Daisy through the limited perception of her would-be lover, Frederick Winterbourne. Although Daisy’s psyche is a mystery, her relationship with Winterbourne reveals her true purpose in the novel. Daisy is a failed catalyst, or an agent of change. She offers Winterbourne spontaneity, freedom and love. In other words, through daisy, Winterbourne has an opportunity to change. But Winterbourne rejects her and thus Daisy fails as a catalyst. Ironically, by rejecting Daisy, Winterbourne fails himself.

One way in with Daisy fails as an agent of change is that she is a member of the newly rich American middle-class. Winterbourne, however, is a member of the Europeanized American class who are, as Ian F. A. Bell notes, “only slightly less ‘nouveau’ (newly rich) than the mercantilist Millers” (Reeve 23). These Europeanized Americans, aptly represented by Winterbourne’s aunt, reject Daisy and her family because they want to retain their higher position on the social ladder. Ironically, Daisy Miller may have been accepted …

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…ublishers, 1990.

Graham, Kenneth. Henry James: A Literary Life. Houndsmills, England: MacMillan Press Ltd. , 1995.

Hocks, Richard A. Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne’s Studies in Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

James, Henry. Daisy Miller: A Study. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed. Vol. 2 Eds. Paul Lauter and Richard Yarborough. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. 452-92. 2 vols.

Pollak, Vivian R., ed. New Essays on Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw. The American Novel Series. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Reeve, N. H., ed. Henry James: The Shorter Fiction. Houndsmills, England: MacMillan Press Ltd., 1997.

Scheiber, Andrew J. “Embedded Narrations of Science and Culture in James’s Daisy Miller.” College Literature 21.2 (1994): 75-88.

Ambiguity and Uncertainty in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown

Ambiguity and Uncertainty in Young Goodman Brown

In “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne, through the use of deceptive imagery, creates a sense of uncertainty that illuminates the theme of man’s inability to operate within a framework of moral absolutism. Within every man there is an innate difference between good and evil and Hawthorne’s deliberate use of ambiguity mirrors this complexity of human nature. Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, is misled by believing in the perfectibility of humanity and in the existence of moral absolutes. According to Nancy Bunge, Hawthorne naturally centers his story upon a Puritan protagonist to convey the “self-righteous” that he regards as the “antithesis of wisdom”(4). Consequently, Young Goodman Brown is unable to accept the indefinable vision of betrayal and evil that he encounters in the forest. The uncertainty of this vision, enhanced by Hawthorne’s deliberate, yet effective, use of ambiguity, is also seen in the character of Faith, the shadows and darkness of the forest, and the undetectable boundaries that separate nightmarish dreams from reality.

The ambiguity surrounding Young Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, immediately becomes apparent at the story’s beginning. As Young Goodman Brown is leaving his comfortable and reverent Puritan home to embark upon this mysterious journey, Faith unexpectedly plunges her “pretty head into the street” allowing the wind to tousle and “play with the pink ribbons of her cap”(1199). Hawthorne uses natural imagery, such as the image of the wind “playing” with Faith’s pink ribbons, to convey Faith’s attachment to nature; the dark and mysterious part of life that is somewhere outside the constraints of Puritan society. In fact, the image…

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…rne: A Study of Short Fiction. Ed. Nancy Bunge. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. 136-41.

Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of Short Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.

Dolis, John. The Style of Hawthorne’s Gaze. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1993.

Elder, Marjorie J. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Transcendental Symbolist. Ohio: Ohio UP, 1969.

Fogle, Richard Harter. “Hawthorne’s fiction: The Light and the Dark.” Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of Short Fiction. Ed. Nancy Bunge. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. 133-35

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol1. Ed. Nina Baym, et al. New York: Norton, 1994. 1198-1207.

Millington, Richard H. Practicing Romance. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1992.

Ponder, Melinda M. Hawthorne’s Early Narrative Art. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990.

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