Gender Roles in Henry James’s Daisy Miller
Daisy Miller is a young and beautiful American girl touring Europe. She meets Winterbourne in Switzerland, and the two become acquainted. They two form a bond, and the story revolves around their courtship, which suffers misunderstandings due to personal and cultural behavioral contradictions. Daisy’s physical appearance is breathtaking, and many men admire her. “She glanced at him with lovely remoteness? Yes, sir? She then replied. And she said nothing more.” (346). However, her moral personality crashes with European culture, and her free-spirited character is seen as flirting; therefore, she is considered a “fallen woman.” According to Saewyc, gender roles are cultural and personal learned behaviors, which influence how men and women socialize and conduct themselves (Para 2). For instance, gender roles are conditions that influence or dictate how men and women act, speak, interact, class, and dress, among others (Para 1). In Henry James’s “Daisy Miller,” Winterbourne is annoyed by how Daisy conducts herself as a woman because she is seen as a defiant lady who does whatever she wants. Her unrestrained personality contradicts Winterbourne’s European culture. Although he finds Daisy’s character too common, naive, and flirty, Winterbourne still tries to pursue her for her physical beauty. This essay expounds on the gender roles depicted in Henry James’s “Daisy Miller.” The huge difference in gender role perception in America and Europe is revealed distinctly in the story through the difficulties it causes the main characters.
Having lived in Europe for a while, James writes this novel to depict the vast variation in gender roles between Americans and Europeans. The author asserts that there is an immense difference between American and European culture, where the latter embraces high-society women who value class and gender roles. The International Labour Organization adds that social learning plays a critical role in teaching how men and women socialize and behave (Para 1). Thus, from the novel, it is evident that in European society, social class is crucial, and due to social class and cultural roles, women in Europe are highly sophisticated. A true lady should comport herself with manners and modesty, and flirting is not considered good behavior.
One of the gender roles discussed in the novel is how men and women act or conduct themselves in society and in relationships. It is imperative to note that in male and female socialization, often girls are taught to be submissive to men and well-mannered; flirting is not one of the accepted behaviors. However, following her uninhibited character, Daisy flouts what is morally acceptable and does what makes her whole and happy. Daisy’s free and enthusiastic approach to life makes her a pioneer feminist.
Consequently, Daisy destabilizes the hegemonic structure of the European culture and does the opposite of most women. For instance, she knows that she is beautiful and is not afraid to hide her beauty and attraction. “The young girl glanced over the front of her dress and smoothed out a knot or two of ribbon. Then she rested her eyes upon the prospect again” (346). More so, she is seen talking and interacting with men from other regions, which makes Winterbourne disapprove of her because European cultural values do not deem this behavior proper. In European culture, this is not how a lady should behave, but Daisy is strong-willed and defiant to cultural norms. Instead, she chooses her path in life, a free-spirited life where gender does not hinder her from living her life to the fullest. For example, in European culture, an upright woman cannot walk in the streets alone or in the company of one man. However, Daisy insists on walking in the company of a single man in spite of numerous warnings. She feels frustrated by these social limitations, and she fights for her rights to be in male-restricted areas.
James uses Daisy to portray gender roles in terms of maintaining relationships. The readers see Daisy embracing life and establishing many associations with males. For instance, unlike a traditional European woman, Daisy chose to have a different personal lifestyle where she is free and not limited by society; instead, she enjoys her free nature and has many male friends. Daisy has a dominant role when dealing with these foreign male counterparts, something that makes Winterbourne jealous. Daisy understands the psychology of sexuality, and she uses her beauty to captivate men.
Besides, Daisy understands the value of a male–female relationship, and she sets a boundary to ensure that her relationship with her lover is respected. She says, “But I do introduce them- almost always. If I didn’t introduce my gentlemen friends to my mother,” the young girl added, in her little soft flat monotone, “I shouldn’t think I was n
Gender Roles in Henry James’s Daisy Miller (Book Review Sample)
Sunday July 10, 2022