Daisy Miller


Henry James

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Daisy Miller: Allusions 2 key examples

Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Explanation and Analysis—Metropolis of Calvinism:

The narrator explains that Winterbourne is attached to Geneva, metaphorically referring to it as "the little metropolis of Calvinism." At the core of this metaphor is an allusion to John Calvin, a central figure in the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland and France. Calvin spent much of his life and did much of his work in Geneva.

Calvinism is a Protestant theological system that emphasizes God's sovereignty. Though it is a complex religious tradition with a range of doctrines, "Calvinist" as a label is often associated with Puritanism because of Calvin's strict religious standards. For example, one of Calvin's leading ideas was that of total depravity: that sin is unavoidable because all humans are inherently driven by evil thoughts and intentions.

Geneva is never a setting of the novella's action, but it is an important background setting. As Americans seeking to assimilate to European culture, characters like Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker have to carefully observe and adjust to the attitudes and behavior they witness around them. By linking Geneva with Calvinism early in the novella, James imbues the city with a severe, pious, and moralizing atmosphere. These values stand in stark contrast to the uninhibited behavior of American travelers like the Miller family. Moreover, the link between Winterbourne and a place designated as Calvinist provides important characterization. The young American man may not be a Geneva-native, but his fondness for the place suggests that he has absorbed some of the norms and expectations that reign in the Swiss city.

Both Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker are based in Geneva. The baseline of expected etiquette in Europe is, to begin with, more elaborate and limiting than the baseline found in America. The designation of Geneva as a metropolis of Calvinism suggests that it occupies a spot on the more extreme end of the spectrum of European propriety. In other words, Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker have embraced some of the more rigid and orthodox values found in Europe.

Throughout the narrative, it is clear that the norms and expectations that exist in Geneva define these two characters' frames of reference when they scrutinize Daisy. Although Daisy shocks Winterbourne, a part of him is fascinated by her because of the way she refuses to conform. His attraction to and judgment of Daisy are complexly intertwined, which leaves him confused, frustrated, and obsessed. As Winterbourne gets to know Daisy, he struggles to interrogate the distinction between his personal prejudices and the customs of the place in which he lives.

Unlike Winterbourne, Mrs. Walker is not charmed by Daisy's resistance to European standards. She seems to view Daisy's behavior as a rejection of the unspoken pact that exists between upper-class American expatriate women. In her view, Daisy's behavior poses a threat to the worldview and system that she has spent years assimilating and contributing to.

It is significant that, despite his attachment to the "metropolis of Calvinism," Winterbourne leaves Geneva for Rome halfway through the story. He may feel attached to the Protestant way of life, but not so much so that he is unwilling to leave it for the home of Catholicism in pursuit of a lively young lady.

Explanation and Analysis—The Infant Hannibal:

When Winterbourne re-encounters the Miller family in Rome, Randolph tells him that he hates the Italian city. Winterbourne uses a simile in his response to Randolph's fierce opinion, telling him he is "like the infant Hannibal."

Known for his gift for military tactic, Hannibal was a general from Carthage who invaded Italy in 218 B.C.E. Nearly taking Rome, he inspired great fear in Romans. On one level, Winterbourne compares Randolph to Hannibal as a child because of their shared ferocity. The simile is especially clever, however, when the reader notes that Hannibal was Rome's greatest enemy. Randolph is not simply fervent in his opinions—he fervently detests Rome.  

This simile sheds light on how people like Winterbourne view Randolph's American attitudes and manners. The nine-year-old is the only character in the novella who straightforwardly expresses value judgments on the differences between Europe and America. His young age permits him to disregard the standards of discretion and tact that are expected of adults. The combination of his fearlessness and his animosity towards Rome makes him a 19th-century reincarnation of a young Carthaginian general.

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