Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

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SummaryAt Mrs. Walker’s party, Mrs. Miller comes alone, telling Winterbourne that Daisy is with Giovanelli, playing songs at the piano, and that they will possibly come later. Mrs. Walker is outraged at Daisy’s inconsideration, vowing that she will not speak to her at all when she finally comes. When Daisy finally arrives she states that Giovanelli and she were practicing some songs that Daisy wanted Giovanelli to sing for the party. When Giovanelli does so, Daisy talks through his entire performance.

Winterbourne warns Daisy again that she should not be seen walking the streets (insinuating that she will be viewed as equal to a “street walker,” or prostitute) with Giovanelli. Daisy chooses to misinterpret his remark and asks where else they should walk. Winterbourne tells her outright that she has the habits of a flirt, which is not acceptable in Europe, whatever it might be in America. Daisy resents Winterbourne’s “preaching,” to which Winterbourne replies that if they are in love, that is an entirely different affair. Daisy is genuinely shocked that he would insinuate that she was having an affair with Giovanelli. On top of this, Mrs. Walker turns her back on her when she approaches, signaling that she has been “cut” from society. Daisy is then fully aware of the opinion she has generated among the expatriates, but she does not seem to care beyond being incredibly hurt.

Winterbourne sees Daisy several more times, always in the company of Giovanelli. Daisy does not seem to be bothered by Winterbourne’s presence with Giovanelli, and Winterbourne concludes that Daisy would never be jealous, proving to him that she is a very “light” person. In speaking about Daisy to his aunt, Mrs. Costello, Winterbourne tries again to defend her, mainly because of her innocence coupled with her ignorance. He feels sorry for her because she has made herself such an object of derision simply because she does not know any better, despite repeated warnings. Daisy believes that people do not really care what she does and are only pretending to be shocked. Finally Winterbourne concludes that Daisy Miller is a “young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect.” At this point, Winterbourne ceases to care about Daisy except in terms of her safety. When he finds the two of them in the Coliseum in the middle of the night, he warns them about catching malaria, to which Giovanelli responds that he is not worried about himself and that Daisy insisted on walking.

In a few days, Winterbourne learns that Daisy indeed did catch malaria and is desperately ill. Mrs. Miller tells Winterbourne that Daisy was not engaged to Giovanelli, and she wanted Winterbourne to know that. When Daisy dies, he attends her funeral and talks briefly with Giovanelli. The Italian did not believe that she would ever marry him and regrets the loss of such a beautiful girl. Winterbourne leaves Rome. The next summer, he and Mrs. Costello talk about Daisy. Winterbourne feels that somehow he did not appreciate her. He says that he has lived too long in foreign parts, but he returns to Geneva, where he is again rumored to be either studying or interested in a “very clever foreign lady.”

Analysis Daisy Miller’s fall from grace (such as she ever had) is complete, precipitated by her own stubbornness. She cannot be said to be a victim of her own ignorance since she was warned repeatedly about the dangers of her behavior. It was only the ignorance in knowing when to listen to advice that can be said to be an element in...

(This entire section contains 1030 words.)

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her inevitable demise. Death by malaria is probably a severe mercy, because (as James seems to be insinuating) she would most likely find herself in a situation in which she will have lost all honor at the hands of Giovanelli or some other Latin lover. In James’s eyes, Daisy Miller was too ignorant to live. Her recklessness with her reputation eventually led to recklessness with her safety.

Daisy’s death is mentioned casually, as being only a small, perhaps mildly interesting, bit of news: “The poor girl died.” Even the scandal of her behavior did not merit more attention than that. Her insignificance in the society in which she moved is now set in stone in the Protestant cemetery in Rome.

Daisy Miller could be seen as an attempt by James to serve as a warning to all Americans travelling overseas. At a time when many people suddenly became wealthy and moved rapidly up through the social strata, this warning was timely in the area of the impression that Americans were making in person in Europe. The nouveau riche were seen as gauche, uncultivated, ill-mannered, and undesirable, no matter how much money they made. One could not buy oneself a place in respectable company. It was not looks, nor dress, nor money, but only behavior that made one part of the upper class. The set of behavioral standards had been long determined and were not to be changed for some time. Daisy Miller and her family presumed that once they had reached a critical number in the bank account, they “belonged.” Daisy Miller was in the process of learning that there is more to it than that. Mrs. Miller in the end began to see the light as she took more direct care for Daisy in her illness. The carefree parenting to which she was accustomed would not work if one were grooming one’s children to fit into the upper echelons of society. Mrs. Miller saw that too late.

In the end, Winterbourne sees Daisy for what she is. Given her continuing inclinations as to what is acceptable and her refusal to learn to function in the society in which she placed herself, he saw that he and Daisy had nothing fundamental in common on which to build a relationship. He feels vaguely guilty about not “appreciating” her, blaming his prolonged stay in Europe for not understanding the changes in American behavior. But in the end, he returns to Geneva, continuing his life exactly as if Daisy, that lovely yet transient blossom, had never existed.


Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis