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The “Free” Daisy Miller

In “Daisy Miller” by Henry James, much of the character’s free will is controlled under moral pressure. Especially that Daisy and Winterbourne’s free will have to adhere to ethical rules in different ways, Daisy is more of a victim of free will, and Winterbourne is the one taking advantage of it for his benefit. In the Victorian area, women with “Free Will,” like Daisy Miller, were usually punished for their “morally unacceptable” behaviors.

The story of Daisy Miller begins with unacceptable behavior from Winterbourne. When he sees Daisy approaching, “She was bare-headed; but she balanced in her hand a large parasol with a deep border of embroidery; and she was strikingly, admirably pretty.’ How pretty they are!’ thought Winterbourne, straightening himself in his seat, as if he were prepared to rise” (6). Here we can see already the lust he has for American girls as if they were all the same. Maybe, some about their “free will” that he liked so much attracted him to Daisy. During those times, it was unacceptable for a gentleman to approach a girl as he did with Daisy, and when he noticed that she did not mind it, he was intrigued by it and amazed. I think from that moment on, he decided to push the moral norms with Daisy and, to his amazement, see how far he could take her.

Daisy Miller adds to his idea of how much “free will” or how alright she is with breaking social rules,” ‘I have more friends in New York than in Schenectady-more gentleman friends; and more young lady friends too,” she resumed in a moment. She paused again for an instant; she was looking at Winterbourne with all her prettiness in her lively eyes and in her light, slightly monotonous smile. ‘I have always had,’ she said, ‘a great deal of gentleman’s society'” (10). Breaking the social rules at least in Europe’s eyes during the Victorian area, it was unacceptable for young ladies to have so many gentlemen friends. Later, Mrs. Costello confirms this when Winterbourne is telling her about how uncultivated Daisy is. Her reaction when Winterbourne tells her that Daisy accepted the invitation to go to the castle with him after a half-hour meeting him, “‘Dear me!’ cried Mrs. Costello.’ What a dreadful girl!'” (14). Ms. Costello’s reaction, I would imagine, would be that of many “moral” or “proper” ladies during that time. Her actions ruined Daisy’s reputation in her eyes.

Daisy’s “free will” actions have more consequences than those of Winterbourne. Since the moment she went with Winterbourne to the castle alone, her reputation in the European society went downhill or even before that act, but it just made people aware of what kind of person she was. Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker represent the typical Victorian judgmental people that measure people like Daisy’s behavior. When she began going out with Giovanelli, in Rome, her reputation, even among her fellow Americans, began to go down. Not only because Giovanelli’s social status and moral actions were in question, but Daisy’s actions when she was with him. She was seen as a “flirt” because she went along with him, and she had no intention of marrying him. Winterbourne is not judged as harshly because he is a man, and he is just a “victim” of the “flirt” that Daisy Miller is.

Daisy, on the other hand, thinks she is free to choose what she can do. In the story, there are many examples where she “seems” to decide what she wants, like, for example, when she refuses to go with Mrs. Walker when she is walking with Giovanelli and Winterbourne. She leaves her there with the offer, and just Winterbourne follows the norms and goes off with Mrs. Walker. Another more lethal example is when she tells Giovanelli to go with her to the Colosseum at night, and she catches the “roman fever.” Here she is punished by her immoral actions or choosing to have “free will” and make her own decisions. After she dies, she is judged harshly, and it is put as an example that if a woman does not follow the moral and social rules can suffer such consequences.

The story suggests that Daisy’s “free will” choices were not that free after all. Many would argue that Daisy’s “free will” was guided by that of a rebel girl, but I think it had to do mostly with cultural differences in conflict. Because in America, girls were expected to act a little more independently, and it was socially acceptable to go out with men alone. Even when Winterbourne did almost the same behavior by asking her to go with him to the castle alone, he was judged less harshly. The other case when he asked her if she loved him, it was also socially unacceptable for men to ask such questions. It seems like men in the story have freedom of “choice,” Winterbourne had the choice to go out with Daisy, and so did Giovanelli choose to go out with her to gain social status. The only ones lacking “choice” is Daisy.

In the Victoria area, women with “choice” or “free will” were severely punished by their behavior. In the case of Daisy Miller with death, she “served” as an example for Victorian girls of the consequences that “free will” can have on their lives, not only social harm but also death.