Student Question

How does culture clash impact Daisy's behaviors in Daisy Miller? Is she challenging rules?

Quick answer:

Cultural differences occurs on several levels in Daisy Miller, but the result of these clashes upon Daisy is that she is misunderstood by others, and that by taking her own path, she forges a unique destiny for herself. It can also be said that this path leads to her own destruction.

Expert Answers

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In Daisy Miller Henry James depicts a woman whose behavior and attitudes conflict with society's expectations of her. But one must ask how much of this conflict exists chiefly in the perception of her by the narrator, Winterbourne. Daisy goes her own way, acting in a manner that her friend Winterbourne considers inappropriate and strange. She does not seem to care what people think of her. Gender issues and the expectations of how a young woman should act are set against a background of culture clash between Europeans and Americans.

Consider whether Winterbourne finds Daisy puzzling merely because he doesn't expect an American girl to act as she does. When she is constantly seen with Giovanelli, Winterbourne warns her that things like this are perceived differently here (in Europe), meaning that everyone will assume that she and Giovanelli are having an affair. As readers, we are never sure if Daisy is doing things deliberately to flout convention or if she is naive to the point of not knowing what is "conventionally" expected of her. In either case, her actions are a response, perhaps an unconscious one, to the restrictions that were a part of her time and place—the place being America, though the story itself is set in Europe.

Her visit to the Colosseum in Rome with Giovanelli is a turning point. At that time, the air inside the landmark was considered unhealthy and dangerous. After Daisy's death, Winterbourne appears to be startled by Giovanelli saying that she was "so innocent." Did Daisy expose herself to danger—on several levels—unknowingly and uncaringly, or rather to forge a new path in reaction to those cultural expectations which represented a clash of ideas and morals? James leaves this question open.

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