In Henry James’s novella Daisy Miller, he contrasts Daisy Miller’s American innocence with Fredrick Winterbourne’s European worldliness, illustrating the devastating effects that occur when the two worlds collide. Daisy is an incredibly flirtatious and reckless young American who lacks the formal etiquette of European society. When Winterbourne first meets Daisy, he believes that she is the ideal girl from America, little did he know about her flirtatious side. Winterbourne realizes that “this young girl was not a coquette in that sense; she was very unsophisticated; she was only a pretty American flirt” (James 48). Through the eyes of the Europeans, Daisy represents the stereotypical American because she wants to live life to the fullest. Winterbourne, on the other hand, is stiff, formal, and proper because he is highly concerned with how others perceive him. James confirms this description of Winterbourne through the narrator’s statement: “When his friends spoke of him, they usually said that he was at Geneva ‘studying’; . . . he had no enemies; he was an extremely amiable fellow, and universally liked” (2).
Winterbourne is a well-educated man with excellent etiquette who is widely respected by his peers. He is uptight, sophisticated, and thoughtful in all his actions. Contrasting the two, Daisy is innocent, ignorant, and free-spirited; her naivety eventually condemns her to death when she unwittingly walks into the lion’s den of European society. James exemplifies this character foil through this interaction between Daisy and Winterbourne when he encourages her to, “‘get in the carriage’. Daisy gave a violent laugh. ‘I have never heard anything so stiff! If this is improper . . . then I am all improper and you must give me up’” (39, 40). Daisy is surprised by Winterbourne’s stern approach towards her care-free nature while Winterbourne is appalled by her disrespect. Winterbourne’s concern is minimal compared to the rest of European society, who harshly condemn her actions. Daisy refuses to listen to her criticisms and goes about in her way. Due to her lack of interest in other people’s opinions, she continues to go out at night, which leads to her catching the Roman fever and dying.
The problems created from the differences between the two characters and their cultures are fully examined through the consequence of Daisy losing her life. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideologies from Discourse on the Origin of Inequality are expressed in the variation between the two lifestyles of Daisy Miller and Fredrick Winterbourne. In Rousseau’s own words, “Savage man and civilized man differ so much in their inmost heart and inclinations that what constitutes the supreme happiness of the one would reduce the other to despair. The first breathes nothing but repose and freedom, he wants only to live and remain idle . . . By contrast, the Citizen, forever active, sweats and scurries, constantly in search of ever more strenuous occupations” (51). The savage man wants to live a free life, independent of society; however, the civilized man is always working to impress others who are living as slaves of society.
Daisy, a delegate of the American lifestyle, represents the savage man because she does not care about society and wants to enjoy life. However, Winterbourne, the classic European gentleman, is incredibly concerned with raising his social status while conforming into society. Due to the attributes of Winterbourne and Daisy, a definite inequality between them and their cultures is clear. Rousseau feels that the corruption of humanity is a result of society; Daisy represents this by disregarding any effort from others trying to help her fit in. In contrast with Rousseau and Daisy, Winterbourne feels that society is necessary to keep order in the world. James contrasts American and European societies through Daisy and Winterbourne, based on the ideologies given by Rousseau to display the consequences when two polar societies clash.
James, Henry. Daisy Miller. ORIGINAL DATE. New York: Dover, 1995. Print. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004. Print. Rpt. of “A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind.” French and English Philosophers: Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Hobbes, Volume 34 of the Harvard Classics. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910. Print.