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What kind of
character is Winterbourne? How might James have presented him differently
if he had intended him to be a romantic hero?
At first glance, Winterbourne seems the ideal
type of romantic hero, but the more we get to know him, the more
shallow and unimpressive he seems. This change is largely a function
of the way in which he responds to his aunt’s views about Daisy.
He defends Daisy feebly and takes his aunt’s opinion very
much to heart. We are told that “he immediately perceived, from
her tone, that Daisy Miller’s place in the social scale was low.” Winterbourne
accepts his aunt’s judgment as fact. He listens “with interest”
to her “disclosures” about the courier, rather than ignoring, dismissing,
or hearing them with the same sort of amused tolerance with which he
treated Randolph’s similarly strong pronouncements about American
candy and American men.
James could have made Winterbourne a very different sort
of person. If this were to be a love story, for instance, and Winterbourne
its romantic hero, James could have shown him to be defiant and
unconcerned with his aunt’s judgments and prejudices. Or he could
have made Winterbourne kind and tolerant of his aunt but essentially
independent minded. Instead, in Chapter 2,
James begins painting the picture of a man who is weak, albeit in
a complicated way. More than anything else, Winterbourne is impressionable—the
degree to which he is easily impressed may actually be his salient
characteristic. He is equally impressed by Daisy and by his aunt.
In short, Winterbourne is a rather shabby protagonist, a young man
who is completely a product of his environment and of the values
of the society that has produced him.
How do you
think James wants us to view the Millers’ relationship with servants?
For Winterbourne’s aunt, Mrs. Costello, to
dismiss the entire Miller family merely because they allow the courier
to sit with them in the garden in the evening may seem ridiculous,
and James may even want it to seem ridiculous. Certainly, he wants
us to find it funny that Randolph likes to talk to waiters and that
the courier should be the only member of the Miller household who
can get him to go to bed. However, the Millers’ relationship with
Eugenio is actually a little sad. Their treating the courier like
a friend is probably a function of the democratic American mindset,
since Americans did not notice class distinctions the way Europeans did.
However, the Millers also speak of Eugenio as a friend—trustingly,
almost affectionately. Daisy quotes him incessantly and teases him
to his face. This, and not anything more sinister or sexual, is
what Mrs. Costello means by “intimacy.” Eugenio, for his part, clearly
has nothing but contempt for the Millers. He not only finds them
vulgar but assumes they are too stupid to pick up on it when he
makes his opinion clear to Winterbourne. It is ironic that the Millers’
courier should have more sense of propriety than they do, and he
seems to be well aware of that fact and to despise them for it.
Daisy’s conversation with the chambermaid about Winterbourne’s
aunt is another matter. This sort of openness is a break with convention
on an entirely different level, one that goes beyond matters of
upbringing or custom. Grilling a hotel chambermaid on the habits
and character of a fellow guest is simply vulgar, and telling Winterbourne
that she has done so is even more vulgar.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Daisy Miller!