University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal - Daisy Miller: A Study of Patriarchal Perception
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Daisy Miller: A Study of Patriarchal Perception

By: Teddy Duncan Jr. | Mentor: Dr. William Fogarty


Without ever attempting to understand in earnest Daisy's perspective, Daisy Miller studies Winterbourne's perception of Daisy. James refuses to portray Daisy's intentions, instead relying on Winterbourne to dispatch speculations of her movements; Winterbourne is thus an imperative middle man in this narrative between the events of the plot and the depiction of those events. Winterbourne’s examination inverts the ordinary conventions of integrity and character — Daisy is subjected to criteria that deviates from what is normally thought of as good moral behavior. Winterbourne expects timidity from a woman, for that is the societal expectation imposed by patriarchal thought. There are many instances of this critical backwardness; for example, when Winterbourne announces that he has to go to Geneva the day following their castle excursion, Daisy calls him "horrid" (James 29) and he, in a strange confessional moment, remarks to himself that "no young lady had as yet done him the honor to be so agitated by the announcement of his movements" (James 30). This thought does express the strength of the attachment between two people, but it also suggests a neurotic and dominating desire for dependence. Winterbourne finds a certain enjoyment in being called “horrid,” registering Daisy’s frustration as a sort of play thing for his egocentric agenda. A woman is viewed, according to the internal movements of Winterbourne’s mind, as auxiliary to a man.

The manner in which James constructs the text forces an examination of Winterbourne’s own partiality toward Daisy, and we can further examine the socio-geographical conditions that form his patriarchal perception. We learn much more about Winterbourne and patriarchy than we ever do about Daisy. This point of view renders Winterbourne as a transparent character and Daisy as an opaque character; as a result, the text reveals more about Winterbourne than it does Daisy via the immediacy between the text itself and Winterbourne's consciousness. All information about Daisy Miller is mediated and dispatched through Winterbourne, and since his mediation is subjective, it is also unreliable, making any conceptions of Daisy Miller mere hearsay speculations. Only Winterbourne can be understood without doubt, as his perception is explicitly disclosed. Further, what can be extracted from Winterbourne's character is a patriarchal perception that is related to, and informed by, particular locations (namely Geneva and vaguely Europe as a whole) and the inhabitants of those locations (namely Winterbourne's aunt and Mrs. Walker). These patriarchal perceptions are blatantly shown through the characters who inform Winterbourne’s perception. We also see these norms at play in Winterbourne’s ceaseless internal inquiries into Daisy's character and motives, the disproportionate (when compared to males) protection of her innocence from varying forms of “impropriety,” and the repression of any deviance from her normative role as a woman. Henry James uses Winterbourne as the representation of patriarchal distribution of thought and of the imposing force that patriarchal perception has on the lives of women.

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