The Quintessential American Woman The American woman is a mystery that has yet to be solved. She is an ever-changing poem that sparks interest in those who are unaccustomed to her mysterious ways. The American women fascinated many authors, including Henry James. To express his enthrallment, James employed his literary talent to create Daisy Miller. Daisy exudes the vast depth of the entity of the American woman, which originally captured James' attention.
John Hay, a contemporary observer of American manners and mores stated of the American woman, "Her conduct is without blemish, according to the rural American standard, and she knows no other" (qt d. in Fogel 52). James's Daisy Miller depicts the innocence of the American woman, with its accompanying crudeness. It is through Daisy Miller, and her contradictory characteristics of purity and crudeness that James presents and depicts his American woman to the world. "Pure" is defined as "chaste; virgin" in the American Heritage Dictionary (681). This describes one half of the American woman in the Jamesian perspective.
Daisy Miller's character is depicted as the epitome of pure. This purity particularly lies in Daisy's ignorance of proper social behavior. Daniel Mark Fogel wrote in his critical analysis of Daisy Miller, "In America, women were under somewhat less rigid control than they were in England or Europe, in part because of the comparatively high degree of social mobility in the United States and the concomitant absence here of a rigid class structure" (Fogel 54). Daisy's character is unaccustomed to the proper social behavior women must maintain in European high society.
She parades about without a chaperone, and flaunts her friendships to men, thereby presenting herself to others as a tramp. Evidence for this is found in the novella wherein Winter bourne ponders, "Was she simply a pretty girl from New York State... or was she also a designing, an audacious, an unscrupulous young person" (James 57). Daisy seems pure and innocent, but her behavior is so unrefined leaving her open to suspicions of crudity.
As Daisy can be said to personify the American woman, such qualities of innocence and crudity can be said to apply to the American woman as well. Daisy's purity is further explored in her dealings with the few expatriate Americans that she encounters in Europe. The characteristics of the expatriates consist of familiarity with American social behavior, although European social behavior is favored. This adds to the contrast between the American and European social standard. Mrs.
Walker, an American expatriate, is a perfect example of the difference between the standards of America and Europe. After sympathizing with Daisy's behavioral ignorance, Mrs. Walker attempts to help Daisy from further ruining her fast developing reputation. Daisy's refusal to accept advice creates additional isolation from the social society in Europe for her. In a compilation of commentary on Daisy Miller, Albert Morell writes, "One of the most successful touches in the story is that where Daisy, astonished by being cut by American ladies, honestly avows her disbelief in their disapproval." (89). Daisy's purity is once again found in her inability to comprehend why she is being shunned, further exhibiting the tendency of American women to possess innocence.
While purity is examined thoroughly in the novella, its opposing crudity is equally illustrated in James's depiction of the American woman. This crudeness is expressed in Daisy's ignorance of her behavior, and her lack of social class. Daisy's character develops with the help of her fellow Americans living abroad in Europe. They try to assist Daisy in conforming to European society and recognize her lack of eagerness to do so as being crude. In a critical interpretation of Daisy Miller, Carol Oh mann writes "The members of the American community abroad are very much aware of one another's existence... they are watch birds watching one another for vulgarity, for any possible lapse from propriety" (Bloom 29).
Daisy is under close inspection by the other European and American women. Their constant scrutiny of Daisy, combined with her negative ostentatious behavior, give her the appearance of being a crude woman; more definitively a crude American woman. Daisy is persistent in advertising that she sees nothing wrong with her behavior. She listens to the advice of the women she encounters and makes a point of ignoring it. James uses Daisy's reluctance to conform to characterize the American woman as being familiar with social rebelliousness.
Fogel writes .".. we need to be careful not to inflate Daisy's conscious defiance and criticism of the society that ostracizes her too much beyond the innocence that Henry James attributes to her... ." (61). James characterizes Daisy as equally crude and pure. Each of these characteristics is expressed so blatantly in the novella that the reader is as enthralled with the American woman as James was. Describing Daisy Miller Fogel writes "Others do not understand her innocence in part because they are hidebound, because they are blinded by convention and by prejudice, but also in part because Daisy fails to communicate what she really is" (95).
James American woman is as equally undefined. She is criticized and rationalized, and all the while misunderstood. Daisy Miller is a representative of the American woman that so enamored James. She is a woman characterized by the juxtaposition of purity and crudeness.
She exudes mystery and depth, capturing the minds of many an author, artist, and scholar. She is the quintessential American woman.