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


Normative Gender Roles and Their Corresponding Hierarchal Positions

James uses the overt subjectivity of Winterbourne to emphasize the exclusionary facets of patriarchal gender normative roles. Winterbourne deploys this gender normative metric in his perception, excluding Daisy from certain behaviors that are allowed in men. Winterbourne almost always fixates on traits that would be acceptable in a man but not in a woman. Winterbourne is constantly focused on Daisy’s inappropriately uninhibited personality, a quality which, in a man, might be characterized as assertiveness or even courage. Winterbourne intervenes when Daisy displays these behaviors that deviate from normative female behavior. Daisy cannot occupy the space of male behaviors. James, in his decision to depict Winterbourne as uncomfortable with Daisy’s male-oriented behaviors, is inherently questioning the basis of these roles.

Kyriaki Asiatido has noted that Winterbourne’s assertiveness and enforcement of normative female behavior is granted the status of the paternal: “Winterbourne enacts the paternal role, an important role of the male lover who must protect the female from public danger and must secure her morality by limiting her access to public space” (827). Winterbourne is occupying the Victorian male role of public protector over Daisy. Hristina Aslimoska suggests that Winterbourne is imposing the “angel in the house” female position upon Daisy, which, as Aslimoska states, is a Victorian ideal in which a woman “needs to be meek and submissive wife glorify her husband, as well as a caring mother who entirely devotes herself to her children. The public sphere is not considered as suitable for the angel woman.” Later Aslimoska notes that “Daisy undermines this ideal.” (70) By way of example, Winterbourne exhibits this restricting behavior towards Daisy when they are on the boat headed towards the castle and he is "disappointed" because "she neither avoided his eyes nor those of anyone else" (James 28). This remark is immediately followed by Winterbourne saying that he allowed "for her habitual sense of freedom" (28). Winterbourne must make this internal allowance in order to reconcile Daisy’s inhabitation of the male domain of courage or boldness. James shows through Winterbourne’s paternal role of protection that typical normative gender roles serve a negative, limiting function:Winterbourne attempts to ensure that she remains outside of male-exclusive behaviors, thus normalizing her position and consequential role as a woman.

The text discloses, through Daisy and Winterbourne’s similar actions and their dissimilar treatment, that the male role permits pre-marital relations (or gossip regarding pre-marital relations) while the female role is not permitted those same relations. James instates an explicit symmetry in the text between Daisy and Winterbourne; they are reflections of each other, Winterbourne with his "charmer" in Geneva and Daisy with her gentleman in Rome (James 30). They both have some sort of flirtatious connection to one another as well as other romantic pursuits, and while Daisy is ostracized, Winterbourne is unaffected from the patriarchal society that James places him in (a society meant to illustrate the social functioning of the real, material nineteenth century Europe). Yet, when Winterbourne's position in society is stated in the beginning of the story he is considered to have “no enemies... an extremely amiable fellow, and universally liked,” while Daisy is constantly being challenged and judged (James 4).

Andrew Scheiber has pointed out that James made Winterbourne’s struggle external rather than internal: "Much of the tension in the story comes from Winterbourne's efforts at maintaining his own privileged position in this internalized narrative of culture" (76). Winterbourne’s privileged position is defined by its relation to Daisy’s lack of privilege, and his inner antagonisms (which, in turn, become the tensions of the novella) are a result of his attempt to assert and maintain this privileged position. Lynn Wardley comments on this proclivity for Winterbourne to pursue self-unity: “Responding to Daisy's adolescent incoherence by attempting to assemble her ‘charming little parts,’ Winterbourne does seem to seek reassurance [of] his own coherence” (240). Again, Winterbourne’s male “coherence” and accompanying societal position relies on Daisy’s “adolescent incoherence” that he seeks to put together.

By contrast, I think that Winterbourne “assembles” Daisy in order to understand and classify her, to assert an observatory gaze over her, rather than just to cohere himself. James adopts this hierarchical privilege in the form of the text. Accordingly, Daisy is presented as a partial static character whose existence is contingent on Winterbourne's observations of her, corresponding to her lack of insight. Her agency, then, depends on Winterbourne. This isn't to say that a text focusing on a male character means the male character is necessarily asserting dominance over the other, less central characters. Rather, with Winterbourne as the observer, it is not so much Daisy Miller that is depicted, nor her actions, but Winterbourne's attitudes regarding her actions as a woman.

James assembles Winterbourne as a consolidation of characteristics that constitute patriarchal masculinity and consequently that subordinate femininity. He is mechanically cold and unspontaneous (besides the few times Daisy convinces him to do otherwise) and hyper-critical. Daisy accuses him of such behavior early in the novella: “What on earth are you so grave about?” (James 28). Winterbourne’s stiff behavior is restraining and repressing to Daisy. Louise Barnett claims that his behavior is representative of patriarchy: "Winterbourne represents the masculine world which has ultimate control over the lives of women" (281). Not only does Winterbourne’s rigid behavior denote repression, but his internal categorizations are also dominating, suppressing (or attempting to suppress) certain behaviors not only in himself but also in Daisy. It is Winterbourne's position as oppressive examiner within the text that attempts, and partially succeeds, to subjugate Daisy by his observation of her. The story revolves around these beliefs and how he observes Daisy according to those beliefs. The text demonstrates an honest account of Daisy’s divergence from normative female behavior and the suppression and ostracism she endures in a patriarchal society due to that divergence.

The text of the novella indicates that Winterbourne must also adhere to the behavioral regulations imposed by the patriarchal standards regarding his interactions with women. Winterbourne and Daisy are both deeply affected and construct themselves according to "life-inhibiting aspects of conventionality" (Barnet 283). These aspects of patriarchal conventionality have "negative implications for the wellbeing of men as well as women" (Bareket 519). James presents Winterbourne's mere discretion as enough to absolve him of his social misdoings. These incessant exemptions that Winterbourne enjoys from the scrutiny of the public establish a typical gender hierarchy. Winterbourne is autonomous because he is a man in a male-centric society. Regardless of the circulating rumors or the "singular stories" (James 4) pertaining to his interactions with women outside of wedlock, he is still referred to as "too innocent" by his aunt, who refuses to meet the "dreadful girl" Daisy. (18)

Sexuality and Attraction Defined by Patriarchy

In Daisy Miller, certain behaviors in male/female interactions are socially scrutinized and constitute misconduct in the nineteenth century. These “improper” behaviors are all associated with sexuality. Winterbourne's initial pursuit of Daisy is fundamentally stimulated and prolonged by his physical attraction to her, making his infatuation with her inherently sexual. This infatuation is depicted by his descriptions of her throughout the novella, such as "pretty American girl" (James 7) or the narrator’s reflection that "Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than ... her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth" (8). Although he is initially captivated by Daisy because of how she looks, his interior descriptions of her and the majority of his thoughts are attempts to penetrate and understand her personality: “Was she simply a pretty girl from New York state – were they all like that… Or was she a designing, an audacious, an unscrupulous young person?” (12). Winterbourne is trying to deduct her intentions relating to her sexual behavior. Daisy’s sexuality is, in fact, a primary component of her adherence or non-adherence to the patriarchal metric that Winterbourne feels she must abide by. James reveals that Winterbourne’s pursuit of Daisy is conditional according to her compliance with the criteria that he internally imposes on her.

All of the socially and unspoken codes enforce the necessity for a young woman’s purity to remain intact, which coincides with a young woman’s sexual purity. This emphasis on securing sexual purity means that the sanctity of her virginity must be guaranteed until she is married. Such seemingly insignificant occurrences such as Eugenio’s “tone which struck Winterbourne as very impertinent” (James 14) when Daisy says that Winterbourne is taking her to the castle alone, is subtle evidence of this preoccupation. Winterbourne’s restrictive nature is informed by social surroundings, reflecting the tendency for a person to assimilate to the belief systems that they are in immediate contact with. This particular patriarchal belief system results in its constituents casting judgements in order to uphold virginity, which is an obvious double standard imposed disproportionately on women. Winterbourne implicates himself on various occasions in his own loss of innocence, notably when his aunt calls him "too innocent" and he retorts "My dear aunt, I am not so innocent" (18).

James places Winterbourne within certain patriarchal norms and effectively demonstrates not only patriarchal perception, but also patriarchal attraction and how it operates. James positions Winterbourne’s judgments to function on two disparate extremities: Winterbourne views Daisy as either sexually promiscuous or inexperienced in order to justify his romantic pursuit of her. Winterbourne is participating in the Freudian idea defined by Orly Bareket as the “Madonna-Whore Dichotomy,” which she describes as the “polarized perceptions of women in general as either good, chaste, and pure Madonnas or as bad, promiscuous, and seductive whores” (519). Winterbourne’s categorization of Daisy operates within these good/bad, pure/impure, Madonna/whore binaries. James’ decision to make these characters function according to these polarizations and subsequently condemn of Daisy via the Madonna-Whore Dichotomy effectively “reinforce[s] patriarchy” and specifically constructs limitations on “women’s self-expression, agency, and freedom by defining their sexual identities as fitting one of two rigid social scripts” (Bareket 520).

Winterbourne has a definite preference against the Daisy’s ostensible promiscuity, which defines, for the reader, his beliefs towards women in general. As the narrator reveals when Winterbourne sees Daisy with Giovanelli at the coliseum late at night, Winterbourne feels that “she was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect” (James 60). Bareket posits that there is a latent reason for men's loathing of promiscuous women: "Men ... objectify promiscuous women to avoid emotional attachment, treating them with contempt" (520). James constructs Winterbourne as obsessed with Daisy’s intentions and with formulaically defining her. The ideology implicit in the Madonna-Whore Dichotomy encapsulates Winterbourne’s beliefs regarding Daisy’s actions and delineates his quasi-contempt of her.

The Patriarchy's Means of Information Distribution: Patriarchal Interpellation

James shows, through Winterbourne’s relationship to people and places, how patriarchal interpellation occurs: Winterbourne begins to accept (or has already accepted) the patriarchal norms that are presented to him by the people and places around him and the pervasiveness of these cultural ideas. Daisy Miller is constructed by James so that the other women in Winterbourne’s life, his aunt and Miss Walker, are the primary contributors to the perpetuation of the sometimes brutal judgement of Daisy Miller. These characters have submitted themselves to the notion that women are obligated to uphold a certain standard that men do not have to uphold.

For example, when Winterbourne informs his aunt that he took Daisy to the castle, she says it is damaging for her, but not for him. "Of course a man may know everyone. Men are welcome to the privilege" (James 32). Barnett explains such hypocrisy as symptomatic of sexism: "Those women who accept their circumscribed existence pay varying prices of neurotic illness, ineffectuality and hypocrisy" (381). These symptoms are present in these women, from the aunt’s reluctance to associate with others (ineffectuality) to the hypocrisy present in them all. This overt awareness and submission to the patriarchal system of reasoning effectively lowers women's position in society. These women’s harshness towards another woman surpasses anything that Winterbourne internally or externally says or does. Even he calls Mrs. Walker “cruel” when she refuses to acknowledge and return Daisy's departing gesture from her evening party, to which Mrs. Walker responds, “She [Daisy] never enters my drawing room again” (James 51). For someone to participate unknowingly in systematic oppression due to ignorance is vastly different from participating in oppression regardless of knowledge, like Mrs. Walker and Winterbourne’s aunt do. Winterbourne confides in these women, and they are the bearers of the societal notions that inform his “study” of Daisy, as well as his notions of all women. Yet, this patriarchal thought is a societal construct that is imposed on these women, Winterbourne, and Daisy herself from all sides; dissent would likely result in a form of exile, much like what Daisy endures. Indeed, the patriarchal thought implicit in the treatment of Daisy demands adherence from all who want to remain within the exclusive society that produces such thoughts.

James further explores patriarchal interpellation through the narrator's relation to a distinct sense of geographical place. By placing Winterbourne’s cultural roots in Geneva,  James is posing the question of how Geneva inflected his notions of women. James illustrates how Winterbourne’s opinions are frequently shaped by Genevan templates for female conduct and morality. These Genevan ideals have absolute sovereignty over his ideas of propriety and inform his understanding of Daisy (and women in general).  Geneva is described as a significant place in Winterbourne’s development: "Geneva having been for a long time [Winterbourne's] place of residence" (4) and evidently, he spent enough time there to formulate his conceptions of women's conduct. Geneva was a place where "the innocent and natural association of young people is strictly controlled and even discouraged" (Barnet 282). Winterbourne repeatedly consults the Genevan template of women's conduct and morals throughout the novella. He directly refers to this template when he diverts Daisy's offer for him to watch her brother as she goes to the Chillon Castle and he, instead, suggests "I should much rather go to Chillon with you” (13). He notes after her calm response that "She didn't rise, blushing, as a young girl at Geneva would have done" (13). Daisy's behavior deviates from the behavior of women that Winterbourne encountered in Geneva, further enclosing his beliefs within a Madonna-Whore Dichotomy, ceasing to allow him to conceive of any behavior between absolute innocence or purity and absolute impropriety or impurity.

James also uses Winterbourne and Daisy to represent larger cultural values at play between America and Europe. Aslimoska explains that this symbolism is evident from the first scene of the novella: “James highlights the differences between the American and European societies via the description of the atmosphere of Vevey ... the Americans are pictured as noisy and carefree, the Europeans are formal, reserved and disciplined” (71) The location-based structure of patriarchal information from Geneva to Winterbourne further plays into a wider structure within the text that operates on the differences between "cultivated" European conduct and "uncultivated" American conduct. These differences, again, relate to the structure of Winterbourne's position as observer. The only way he achieves cultivation, or refinery, is in relation to Daisy's lack of cultivation, which in a broader sense plays into the relation between the cultivation of Europe against the lack of cultivation in America. The text also explores American innocence against the rigidity of European values, but this cultural disparity of innocence can only be extracted from an objective perspective, from what is surmised outside of Winterbourne's perception. Daisy is, or could be, seen as merely an innocent girl.

Henry James, in a letter to Elizabeth Lynton, a suffragist and fellow novelist, called Daisy Miller a "light, thin, natural, unsuspecting creature" and "above all things innocent" (Jobes 84). But, with Winterbourne as mediator, her innocence is instead translated into uncultivated manners and an almost primitive ignorance of permissible behavior for women, a harmful and almost calculated innocence. Further, Winterbourne constantly revises attributes that are conventionally viewed as ordinary attributes of a person, and according to his own, or his relatives’, or Geneva's, pre-established evaluation of women's conduct. This behavior occurs to the extent that Winterbourne partially succeeds in drowning out the subtext of Daisy's innocence. Eclipsing Daisy’s innocence with Winterbourne’s repository of patriarchal concepts was undoubtedly James' intention, as he says in the same letter to Elizabeth Lynton, "[Daisy was] sacrificed, as it were, to a social rumpus that went on quite over her head & to which she stood in no measurable relation" (Jobes 84).

James’s characters insist on subordinating women via their impressions of Daisy, declaring that she is under the jurisdiction of social laws that are constructed purely for women. This standardization of womens’ actions is implicit in male-female relations as well women’s views of each other. Everything that Daisy endures is the embodiment of the social enforcement of this standardization. Winterbourne solidifies and makes apparent the presence of this standardization via his perception of Daisy. He thinks of her only in relation to himself. He never inquires of her life beyond the effect it may have upon his relationship with her.  Even at the end of the story following her death, she is still upheld to these skewed standards. When Mr. Giovanelli, the Italian gentlemen that Daisy befriended in Rome, speaks to Winterbourne about her after her death, he says "If she had lived, I should have got nothing. She never would have married me, I am sure” (James 63). He is only concerned with what she could have given him, with what he could have "got" from her. His grief is measured according to what he could or could not have potentially received from her if she wouldn't have died. This erasure of Daisy’s autonomy epitomizes the subservient position to men that is imposed on women within the story.

Conclusion >>