In Daisy Miller, what is gained by having Daisy die at the end of the story?

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Daisy Miller is a novella by Henry James that was first published in Cornhill Magazine in June–July 1878. James himself was an American writer who had moved to London in 1869 and then to Paris in 1875. He was therefore part of an expatriate American community writing about Americans in ...

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Daisy Miller is a novella by Henry James that was first published in Cornhill Magazine in June–July 1878. James himself was an American writer who had moved to London in 1869 and then to Paris in 1875. He was therefore part of an expatriate American community writing about Americans in Europe from the perspective of someone intensely interested and personally involved in the relationships among Americans, British, and Europeans within a European setting. The protagonist of the novel, Frederick Winterbourne, is, like James, an American expatriate, and he provides the viewpoint through which readers see Daisy.

Daisy herself is often read as an emblem of American innocence. Her free and unconventional manners both intrigue and shock the other characters. American expatriates who have learned to succeed in European society by emulating more conventional European manners find her a threat to their position, potentially tarnishing them by association.

Daisy's death serves two major functions in the novel. First, as her own imprudence and ignorance of local circumstances are in part to blame, her death suggests to Americans that, as travelers, they need to learn more about areas they visit and follow established local conventions in order to survive. On a more tragic level, her death is a warning that innocence cannot survive contact with an older and more sophisticated environment. Winterbourne himself has lost his innocence and become Europeanized, and this blinds him as much to Daisy's real nature as her ignorance blinds her to the complexity of Europe. Her death makes Winterbourne realize the extent of his loss of both Daisy and his own self.

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There are a number of "gains" to be had from Daisy Miller dying. First, her death provides a definitive closure to James's "study" of her: we remember that the full title of the novella is Daisy Miller: A Study. Daisy is an object d'art: James has painted her portrait and now can move on without any need to follow her further.

Moving into the interior of the story, however, the "gain" of her death proves the point the story is trying to make: it is concretely dangerous to defy social norms. Flirting with Italian men on a holiday is not simply an amusing diversion, but a flirtation with disaster. Daisy's going off alone with Mr. Giovanelli is not simply a matter of an American girl being independent and free. In being too innocent to understand the implications of what she is doing, Daisy contracts a fever—the Roman fever she flippantly declares she is not afraid of—and dies, a fitting "moral" to what can be read as a cautionary tale about the importance of staying within the limits of the social code. (And if had not been a fever, it could have the scandal of a pregnancy, or a death from childbirth).

Digging a little deeper, Daisy's death is important because, knowing she is dying, Daisy comes to realize the importance of reputation. It is important to her to communicate to Winterbourne that she wasn't engaged to Giovanelli. Winterbourne has some regrets that he didn't acknowledge this before he died, but he quickly moves on to the next flirtation, also suggesting that girls like Daisy aren't that important in the grand scheme of things.

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Henry James' novel "Daisy Miller" is a commentary on society in general and on women in particular.  Daisy is a victim of her society.  She is trapped.  Being held back by the standards imposed on women, she is not able to grow intellectually.  In traveling abroad, she is forced to adhere to social standards that are even more strict than what she experiences at home.  Men are attracted to her because of her outgoing nature - however, it is her outgoing nature that makes her the victim of gossip and disapproval, making her unsuitable for men.  In order to stay critical of a society that so represses women, James could not allow Daisy to succeed in the end.  Her death represents to the full extent her victimization.

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