What are some of the social issues in Daisy Miller?

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A chief social issue in Henry James’ novella Daisy Miller is the social interaction between young men and women. Daisy violates European social convention by speaking to men who have not been introduced properly. In fact, Daisy is judged for forming friendships with young men who have not had...

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A chief social issue in Henry James’ novella Daisy Miller is the social interaction between young men and women. Daisy violates European social convention by speaking to men who have not been introduced properly. In fact, Daisy is judged for forming friendships with young men who have not had a formal introduction via her mother or her other established social acquaintances.

Winterbourne also questions this about Daisy. Although Winterbourne appears to be European in many ways, he is an American. Like the author himself, Winterbourne was born in America but taken to Europe to be educated there as a young boy. He is stiffer than Daisy, whose breezy friendliness many of the European characters disapprove of. Daisy is warm and friendly.

Viewing Daisy through a modern lens, her tendency to be friendly and to disregard class distinctions that come into play so vividly in European society might seem progressive, but characters like Winterbourne who believe in adhering to social convention finds some of Daisy’s behavior too brash. Just as in many of James’ other books, the European characters are snobs. They look down on the Americans for their openness and lack of social inhibitions, which the Europeans view as unrefined and brash.

Some of the social issues in Daisy Miller are ones that are present in many other of the authors works, including the tension between how Americans behave compared to the European characters. American manners are less formal and therefore are often looked down upon by the Europeans in James’ books. Daisy speaks in a friendly manner to people who are not at her social station, including the servants. This also points to the issue of social mobility that Americans can enjoy but Europeans generally do not. The Americans' greater sense of optimism versus the more jaded Europeans is seen in the book and in the character of Daisy herself and in her comportment.

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The main cultural conflict is between European society and American society. Americans like Daisy and her family revered the culture and manners of the Old World, but on an almost superficial level. However, they are looked down upon by the Europeans despite their wealth because they cannot fit in due to their difference on certain social issues.

Firstly, Daisy acts too "loosely" for the comfort of the Europeans. She spends time with men unaccompanied by a chaperone and sees whatever man she pleases, whether he seems respectable or not. She openly flirts with several young men as well. This tarnishes her reputation among the Europeans, since they think this is a sign that she has no sexual morality.

Secondly, the Millers honor class distinctions far less than their European counterparts. In the first chapter, Daisy addresses Eugenio, the Miller's courier, as though he were on familiar terms with her—like a social equal, in other words. For Daisy, this is being friendly, but for the Europeans, this is crass and unrefined, worthy of contempt.

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In the clash of the Old and New World depicted in Daisy Miller, freedom is an important theme. Daisy is a symbol of a particularly American kind of freedom—the freedom of the individual to make themselves whatever they wish. Just as the Founding Fathers broke free from European domination in their pursuit of happiness, Daisy also throws off the shackles of European high society to follow her desires wherever they may lead.

Daisy comes from a society that is less formal and less given to ritual and rigid class structure than its European counterpart. As such, she is more open in expressing her personality than the blue bloods she encounters on her travels. James may give us a somewhat idealized portrait of American society in this regard, but there is no doubting its continued hold on the collective imagination. Even if American society has never actually lived up to the image that James presents, it has always enjoyed a greater degree of openness and spontaneity than that in which the European social elite live and move.

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This novellete by Henry James is a story of confrontation. One is that between two cultures - the established Western Europeon society of the late 1700s and the emerging American one, seeking its own identity but nevertheless wanting to "belong." Unfortunately, the affirmation of one excludes the possibility of the other.

Another social issue is the changing role of women. What is the woman's role within the couple and what is her role in society,married or not? How can she affirm her own sexual identity and personal liberty other than within the very limited perimeter of obedient daughter, submissive wife, or dutiful mother?

Daisy discovers that she cannot come and go as she pleases upon European soil. A woman who does so will be tagged as a loose or libertine woman whether she is or not. Daisy is figuratively, then literally, stifled then snuffed out in a social sphere leaving her no "air" or vital space.

A more modern context for such "transcultural transgression" would the dilemma of Muslim women who would integrate into Occidental culture and still cling to the veil (or at least be accompanied in public by a father, brother or another male member but never being allowed to go out alone!).

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