In Daisy Miller, does Winterbourne learn anything from his closeness to Daisy?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In fact, Winterbourne, who is symbolically born of the winter with a cold responsiveness, does not learn anything from his closeness to Daisy in Henry James' novella Daisy Miller. He proceeds through most of the novel to attempt to persuade her to conform with the standards of society. As an aside, James has a double-handed motive in this. On the one hand, he is illustrating the stifling judgemental strictures of society, which are revealed in their true colors at the novel's resolution when Daisy is declared to be the "most innocent." On the other hand, he is illustrating that such strictures are not without an original value that became buried under thoughtlessness and the habits of time, which is revealed with her death from Roman fever.

To return to Winterbourne, who runs as slowly and as shallowly as a Scottish brook or rivulet in the frozen winter time (i.e., bourne is a variation of the Scottish word burn meaning brook or rivulet), it took Daisy's death to teach him anything. It was only at her graveside that he became convinced through Giovanelli's remarks that Daisy was still as fresh in innocence as a spring daisy and that, despite social speculation to the contrary, her behavior, though unwise, was above moral reproach. It isn't until he sees his Aunt the following summer, again at Vevey, that he confesses aloud his regret and his understanding that had he not let social conventions mar the path, he could have claimed Daisy's affections and her heart. Winterbourne learns something but it is from her departure, not from her closeness.

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Daisy Miller

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