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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The most frequently noted symbols in Daisy Miller are
Daisy herself and her younger brother, Randolph. Daisy is often
seen as representing America: she is young, fresh, ingenuous, clueless,
naïve, innocent, well meaning, self-centered, untaught, scornful
of convention, unaware of social distinctions, utterly lacking in any
sense of propriety, and unwilling to adapt to the mores and standards
of others. These traits have no fixed moral content, and nearly
all of them can be regarded as either virtues or faults. However,
Randolph is a different matter. He is a thinly veiled comment on
the type of the “ugly American” tourist: boorish, boastful, and stridently
The Coliseum is where Daisy’s final encounter with Winterbourne
takes place and where she contracts the fever that will kill her.
It is a vast arena, famous as a site of gladiatorial games and where
centuries of Christian martyrdoms took place. As such, it is a symbol
of sacrificed innocence. When Daisy first sees Winterbourne in the
moonlight, he overhears her telling Giovanelli that “he looks at
us as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian
martyrs!” In fact, the Coliseum is, in a sense, where Winterbourne
throws Daisy to the lions and where he decides she has indeed sacrificed
her innocence. It is where he decides to wash his hands
of her because she is not worth saving or even worrying about.
Daisy Miller’s setting in the capitals
of Italy and Switzerland is significant on a number of levels. Both
countries had strong associations with the Romantic poets, whom
Winterbourne greatly admires. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein takes
place largely in Switzerland, and Mary Shelley wrote it during the
time that she, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron sojourned at
Lake Geneva. Mary Shelley and John Keats are both buried in the
Protestant Cemetery, which becomes Daisy’s own final resting place.
For the purposes of Daisy Miller, the two countries
represent opposing values embodied by their capital cities, Rome
and Geneva. Geneva was the birthplace of Calvinism, the fanatical
protestant sect that influenced so much of American culture, New England
in particular. Geneva is referred to as “the dark old city at the
other end of the lake.” It is also Winterbourne’s chosen place of
Rome had many associations for cultivated people like
Winterbourne and Mrs. Costello. It was a city of contrasts. As a
cradle of ancient civilization and the birthplace of the Renaissance,
it represented both glory and corruption, a society whose greatness
had brought about its own destruction. Rome is a city of ruins, which
suggest death and decay. Rome is also a city of sophistication,
the Machiavellian mind-set. In a sense, Rome represents the antithesis
of everything Daisy stands for—freshness, youth, ingenuousness,
candor, innocence, and naïveté.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Daisy Miller!