Daisy Miller

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Themes and Colors
European and American Character Theme Icon
Observing vs. Living Theme Icon
Judgment, Knowledge, and Knowability Theme Icon
Innocence Theme Icon
Female Independence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Daisy Miller, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Innocence Theme Icon

Part of the difference between American and European culture, at least in the eyes of Henry James, is a greater naïveté and innocence on the side of the Americans—although this innocence is never considered wholly positive. Indeed, the word “innocence” is used in several different ways in the novel. In some ways it is related to a lack of knowledge about the way the world works, an ignorance of the unspoken rules and commandments that rule people’s behavior in polite society. In this sense, Daisy certainly seems to align with the idea of an innocent newcomer to European society. But innocence can also, particularly for women, be related to the concept of being “not guilty,” especially with respect to sexual purity. This is the question on which many in Roman society seem divided with respect to Daisy.

Indeed, in different ways, Daisy is both innocent and savvy. She has a coterie of acquaintances on her own in Rome, and has little trouble meeting “locals.” She seems entirely at ease in social interactions, with men as well as with women. This sense of savvy tends to be tied in the novella to her “American” character, and in particular to her family upbringing. Although her family members don’t necessarily encourage her to speak her mind and to pursue all the opportunities that present themselves to her, they also don’t prevent Daisy from doing so or reprimand her for her choices.

At the same time, Daisy’s fascination with European culture often reveals a certain guilelessness, a total openness to seeing and experiencing new things without an accompanying self-awareness about how to act amidst such novelties. Daisy accepts Mr. Giovanelli’s offers to tour Rome unaccompanied by a “chaperone,” she spends all evening with the same men at parties, and she doesn’t act meek and polite around potential suitors. Does she act this way because she just doesn’t know how things are done in Roman expatriate society? Or does she not care—and if not, how much is she courting scandal by seeing just how far she can go with eligible young men? By the end of the novel, both Winterbourne and Giovanelli seem convinced that Daisy is, in their estimation, “innocent”—Giovanelli pronounces this judgment at Daisy’s grave—and yet it is no clearer than it was at the story’s beginning what precisely innocence entails.

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Innocence ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Innocence appears in each part of Daisy Miller. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Innocence Quotes in Daisy Miller

Below you will find the important quotes in Daisy Miller related to the theme of Innocence.
Part 1: Les Trois Couronnes Quotes

He thought it very possible that Master Randolph’s sister was a coquette; he was sure she had a spirit of her own; but in her bright, superficial little visage there was no mockery, no irony.

Related Characters: Mr. Winterbourne (speaker), Daisy Miller, Randolph Miller
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Winterbourne has just met the young Randolph, followed by his sister Daisy, in the garden of the hotel in Vevay, Switzerland where they all are staying. To Winterbourne, Daisy seems distracted and casual, though entirely frank in her attitude towards him. Here, he attempts to classify her within the available frameworks he has for interpreting female behavior. A "coquette" or flirt would usually be a pejorative term for a lady, suggesting that she breaks with established decorum. Winterbourne links the idea of a coquette with that of an independent spirit, something equally frowned upon for young woman. "But," he adds, there is something quite appealing in her attitude as well. To him she seems innocent rather than jaded: the label of a coquette might imply that a woman is perfectly aware of the seductive power she has over a man, and yet Daisy doesn't align with this attitude at all. 


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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 gentlemen’s society.”

Related Characters: Daisy Miller (speaker), Mr. Winterbourne
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Not long after Winterbourne has satisfactorily fitted Daisy into a box by which he can understand her character, she blasts open that box and says something that makes her once again complex and intriguing to him. Daisy has been comparing New York and Europe. She is, she tells him, used to being in society quite often in America, so she is not incredibly impressed by Europe's offerings. As she describes her many lady and gentleman friends in New York to Winterbourne, she seems to become aware of how her chatter might be interpreted. 

Daisy's declaration about gentleman friends skirts the edges of decorum: the phrase could be interpreted quite innocently, and her light smile could either be another sign of frankness, or a recognition of the surprising, if not scandalous, admission of a young well-to-do lady spending too much time alone with men. Either way, Daisy does not hide these details of her past; instead, she parades them out for Winterbourne, making it clear that she has no shame or embarrassment about the way she has acted in the past, and that she will continue to direct her own actions in Europe as she has done in New York. 

“But I really think that you had better not meddle with little American girls that are uncultivated, as you call them. You have lived too long out of the country. You will be sure to make some great mistake. You are too innocent.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Costello (speaker), Daisy Miller, Mr. Winterbourne
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Costello, Winterbourne's aunt, has learned of his conversation with Daisy, and it is obvious that she does not approve. Mrs. Costello has noticed Daisy and her family around the hotel, and has been quick to point out their very American improprieties, such as being overly close and familiar with their servant, as well as their general "vulgarity."

Winterbourne has been attempting to discern whether or not Daisy is innocent, a judgment which assumes that he is knowledgeable enough to decide. Here Mrs. Costello reveals another, even opposite approach, suggesting that in fact Winterbourne is the innocent one, and Daisy the dangerous American interloper that he'll have be wary of. Mrs. Costello thus reflects the paradoxes of the way American character is perceived throughout the book. On the one hand, Americans—especially "little American girls"—are considered to lack the social sense and cultivation of Europeans; but in another way they are thought to be threatening and even conniving, the very opposite of innocent, and indeed liable to damage the innocence of well-meaning European men like Winterbourne. 

She seemed to him, in all this, an extraordinary mixture of innocence and crudity.

Related Characters: Mr. Winterbourne (speaker), Daisy Miller
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Winterbourne has accompanied Daisy to the castle across the lake, and they are spending the day touring together. He has just told her that he must return to Geneva the next day, and she has nearly thrown a fit: she decides that there must be a woman in Geneva to whom he is returning, and she begins to insult this imagined (at least, according to Winterbourne) woman with great passion. 

Winterbourne is entirely taken aback by Daisy's insults. He is not used to women sharing their views so openly: jealousy and protectiveness obviously exist in his world, but they are covered by a veneer of socially acceptable behavior, behavior that Daisy seems not to know or care about at all. In some ways, this only makes her seem more innocent to Winterbourne, since she seems so perfectly ignorant of the way young ladies are supposed to act. At the same time, Winterbourne takes on the language of, for instance, his aunt, in designating this behavior as crude—a term that can often be applied to Americans, as lacking the subtlety and sophistication of their European counterparts. Winterbourne continues to observe Daisy, always having to modify or complicate his judgment of her based on new data or new observations. 

Part 2: Rome Quotes

Winterbourne meditated a moment. “They are very ignorant—very innocent only. Depend upon it they are not bad.”

Related Characters: Mr. Winterbourne (speaker), Daisy Miller, Mrs. Miller, Randolph Miller, Mrs. Costello
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Winterbourne has just arrived in Rome, and Mrs. Costello is updating him about the earlier arrival of the Millers and their shocking behavior—particularly that of Daisy, who has taken to showing up at parties with an Italian man with a moustache. Here, Winterbourne seems to carefully consider his aunt's judgment, though not to embrace it wholeheartedly. Although he seems to only be thinking about the evidence that his aunt has laid out for him, it is clear that his own experience with Daisy influences what he tells his aunt as well. 

Winterbourne does not entirely challenge his aunt's condemnation, but only seeks to explain it. "Ignorance" for him is not exactly a positive trait, but it is justifiable in terms of "innocence," rather than stemming from any kind of maliciousness. Winterbourne thus seeks to defend the Miller family's moral standing even as he refrains from justifying their behavior—for him it is simply that this behavior is socially rather than morally wrong. He seems to place a great deal of importance on his ability to describe and classify the Millers fairly, as well as on his ability to be an impartial judge in the matter. In that, Winterbourne fails to fully understand, or perhaps admit to himself, how much his own fascination for Daisy plays into this process of judgment.

The young girl looked at him more gravely, but with eyes that were prettier than ever. “I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate anything to me, or to interfere with anything I do.”

Related Characters: Daisy Miller (speaker), Mr. Winterbourne
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Winterbourne has accompanied Daisy to meet the Italian, Mr. Giovanelli, in a park, and he has told her that he won't leave her alone with the man. Daisy has been her usual cheerful, somewhat scattered self during her walk with Winterbourne, but now she becomes more serious, as it becomes apparent that she takes his vow seriously, and is troubled by its implications. Daisy's declaration is in the line of earlier statements to Winterbourne, such as her admission that she has plenty of gentlemen friends. Here she qualifies that claim by declaring that no one, not even one of these many gentleman friends—including Winterbourne, for that matter—can tell her what to do. Walking alone with an unknown Italian through a Roman park may not align with proper social customs, but Daisy is eager to pursue this experience, and she insists upon it with a resoluteness and independence that is again surprising to Winterbourne. The fact that Winterbourne focuses on how pretty Daisy is, something that often strikes him when she speaks to him, suggests that he continues to find her alluring and fails to be entirely shocked and appalled by her behavior.

That she should seem to wish to get rid of him would help him to think more lightly of her, and to be able to think more lightly of her would make her much less perplexing. But Daisy, on this occasion, continued to present herself as an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence.

Related Characters: Mr. Winterbourne (speaker), Daisy Miller
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

As Winterbourne walks with Mr. Giovanelli and Daisy, he continues to wonder about Daisy's true character, about what really lies behind her cheerful façade—if there is, that is, any secret behind her joy and desire for experience. Here, he realizes that if Daisy acted as if she would like him to leave, he would be able to better understand: this would mean that she and Mr. Giovanelli were pursuing an affair, and would seek privacy. It would be shocking, to be sure, but at least Winterbourne and others would be able to situate this behavior within understood categories. 

Instead, Winterbourne continues to characterize Daisy as "perplexing" and "inscrutable." She seems innocent enough, but then chooses odd acquaintances and seems to care little for what her actions might look like—and yet this very attitude might also suggest that she is not seeking to hide anything. Winterbourne cannot figure her out, but he has not tired of following her, observing her, and attempting to work out the relationship between her actions and character—a project that becomes no less alluring for being so tricky.

He could not deny to himself that she was going very far indeed. He felt very sorry for her—not exactly that he believed that she had completely lost her head, but because it was painful to hear so much that was pretty and undefended and natural assigned to a vulgar place among the categories of disorder.

Related Characters: Mr. Winterbourne (speaker), Daisy Miller
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

As Winterbourne is touring in Rome with his aunt and other expatriates, he is privy to the gossip they share about Daisy, as well as their judgments and condemnations of her behavior. In some ways, Winterbourne shares their concerns; he comes from the same social background, which affects how he perceives Daisy's behavior, and he cannot help but think that her actions are going "very far indeed." At the same time, he cannot agree that these actions stem from any kind of sinfulness or maliciousness on the part of Daisy. He continues to think of her as innocent, as "natural." Indeed, as much as Winterbourne has tried to classify her in a boxed-in, understandable category, these attempts have so often failed: instead Daisy remains for him in a near-mystical space of mystery and uncertainty, in which her reasons remain inscrutable to everyone, even her closest observer. This is why Winterbourne makes such a crucial distinction between being "vulgar" and merely ignorant, even innocent, as for him the latter absolves Daisy of most of her social improprieties. 

Winterbourne stopped, with a sort of horror, and it must be added, with a sort of relief. It was as if a sudden illumination had been flashed upon the ambiguity of Daisy’s behavior, and the riddle had become easy to read. She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect.

Related Characters: Mr. Winterbourne (speaker), Daisy Miller, Mr. Giovanelli
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Winterbourne has stopped late one evening by the Coliseum, and is pausing to look at the romantic, picturesque scene and to recite some lines of poetry to himself, when he makes out the figures of Daisy and Giovanelli in the Coliseum. For Winterbourne, this is the last straw, and a moment of revelation. For most of the visit to Rome, Winterbourne has agreed with his aunt that there is something improper about Daisy wandering around with an Italian, but he has continued to insist to himself that this behavior is innocent and ignorant rather than conniving—even as he has also struggled to put his finger on Daisy's true character. Now that character seems to come to light without the shadow of a doubt. Only a dishonorable young woman could be out late at night with another man: she must be having an affair with him, Winterbourne concludes, and more importantly, she is not worth his time or respect. The mystery, what here is called a "riddle," seems instantly resolved, and although it is a relief for Winterbourne to finally understand, to finally feel like he "knows" Daisy and can categorize her, it is also painful for him to have to admit that he was wrong about her, and for her to lose her mystery and intrigue for him.

“Anyway, she says she’s not engaged. I don’t know why she wanted you to know; but she said to me three times, ‘Mind you tell Mr. Winterbourne.’ And then she told me to ask if you remembered the time you went to that castle in Switzerland.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Miller (speaker), Daisy Miller, Mr. Winterbourne, Mr. Giovanelli
Related Symbols: Roman fever (malaria)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Daisy has fallen seriously ill with the Roman fever after spending an evening at the Coliseum, where Winterbourne had encountered her and Mr. Giovanelli. Upon seeing them there together late at night, Winterbourne was shocked and disappointed: he decided that it must be the case that Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli are simply lovers, and that all the alluring mystery he had assigned to Daisy was a lie.

Now, Mrs. Miller's comments to Winterbourne complicate this scheme once again. Daisy's true motivations and character continue to be obscure, especially since her words are refracted through her mother, who can be flighty. Still, it appears that Daisy is at least aware of how the scene must have looked to Winterbourne, and is eager to insist that he need not be disappointed in or angry with her—indeed, she may even have stronger feelings for him than he believed. What remains unclear, of course, is the full extent of these feelings, as well as the reason for reminding him of the visit to the castle in Switzerland, apart from the fact that it is a fond memory they both share of a more "innocent" time.

“She was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable”; and then he added in a moment, “and she was the most innocent.”
Winterbourne looked at him, and presently repeated his words, “And the most innocent?”
“The most innocent!”

Related Characters: Mr. Winterbourne (speaker), Mr. Giovanelli (speaker), Daisy Miller
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Winterbourne has encountered Giovanelli at Daisy's burial in a Protestant cemetery in Rome. No longer does Giovanelli look clever and dapper: now he is pale and sickly. Winterbourne lashes out at Giovanelli for having brought Daisy to the Coliseum, but Giovanelli (in a way that is not entirely satisfying) protests that Daisy would always find a way to do what she wanted to do.

However, Winterbourne's anger ebbs at these words of praise from Giovanelli. The repetition of the word "innocent" seems to cement that adjective as the most appropriate description of Daisy (while also casting into doubt yet again whether or not Daisy and Giovanelli really were lovers). Indeed, Giovanelli seems adamant that innocence is the best way to describe Daisy. Winterbourne, of course, has gone through countless cycles of believing, doubting, and provisionally accepting the idea that Daisy is innocent. Unlike Giovanelli, he phrases the word as part of a question; as for any aspect of Daisy's character, he knows now that any belief or judgment that he might have about Daisy can only be asked, not stated resolutely. He has believed throughout the novel that if he just observed Daisy carefully enough, if he reasoned through her actions logically enough, he would pierce the mystery of this alluring American girl. Not only has he failed to do so, but he has failed to fully live himself at the same time.