Argument on Huck Finn

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Why Huckleberry Finn should stay on the syllabus

  1. It represents a historical time period that is problematic.
    1.  Erasing that American culture invalidates the suffering that people of color experienced. By not acknowledging that mindset and stigmas, we are teaching students that it did not exist and therefore undermining people of color today’s history. That being said it needs to be taught in a manner that clearly points out the problematic undertones and microaggressions of the book– even if its purpose was to support anti-slavery. 
  2.  It is a story that had a major impact on American literature, and an influential writing style that inspired many novels for the future generations.
    1.  Twain’s novels challenged the fundamental issues that faced the America of his time; racism, evolving landscapes, class barriers, access to education and more
  3. It is a satire of society.
    1. Separated from society Huck listens to his moral conscience without the enforcement of others and finds it on his own. By being separated from society he has the opportunity to learn his own values and decide to save Jim even if its against the law/ his upbringing. This act also challenges the concept that laws are solely human constructs that should constantly be questioned in order to progress society and religion. He found that his morals go against his religion and declared,“All right, then, I’ll go to hell!” Where stealing “property” is sinful, but Jim is his friend and he knows in his heart that he must put friendship first. The concept being challenged is not his own values rather than this situation would be different if Jim was not considered property. As well as if this little boy, who is clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed (although he has a few redeeming moments) is able to understand that people are not property– the rest of an educated society should be able to grasp that too. 
  4. In reality this is a children’s story that is meant to introduce more mature topics into conversation. 
    1. A lot of the discussed topics from the story revolve around its themes rather than the plot and purpose. It is inherently a “boy’s adventure tale” and should be taken as one. It is not some indoctrinated  book that defines American civilization, though with its effect on American literature people treat it as so. 

Why Huckleberry Finn is still problematic.

  1. It’s undermining sexist assumptions about women and their roles in society.
    1. Just one example is “The Widow” — she is his primary mother figure and she isn’t even given a name. She is defined by her lack of male figure in her life and is labeled by that title, restricting her to a single role. 
  2. The language.
    1. There is a very racist language using historical terms that are extremely offensive and should not be thrown about in discussion. If read its language should be addressed as what it was– since we are currently residing in modern times where society has evolved. Slurs are not appropriate or excusable to toss in even for “historical accuracy.”
  3. The conclusion.
    1. We work all the way up to Huck finding a sense of moral and deciding to save Jim yet when he does– tom sawyer reverses his character growth. Not only harming Jim’s character presence during the escape through gaslighting the poor man, but regressing Hack back into a morally gray child that does not see the importance of his actions. This conclusion I believe was meant to be a satire showing that society and privileged people (including Tom) have a different perspective that subtracts from morality and seeing both sides of a story. But since the ending is still vague with much room for interpretation– it can be misused to promote a racist argument and muddle the conversation the story opened up. 

Despite the controversy, one cannot discount the book’s importance. And I personally believe that it should be kept for a lot of reasons. While I also believe it takes a lot of patience and time addressing the issues and ambiguous topics in the novel.



Argument on Huck Finn

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Why Huckleberry Finn should stay on the syllabus.

  1. It represents a historical time period that is problematic.
    1.  Erasing that American culture invalidates the suffering that people of color experienced. By not acknowledging that mindset and stigmas, we are teaching students that it did not exist and therefore undermining people of color today’s history. That being said it needs to be taught in a manner that clearly points out the problematic undertones and microaggressions of the book– even if its purpose was to support anti-slavery. 
  2.  It is a story that had a major impact on American literature, and an influential writing style that inspired many novels for the future generations.
    1.  Twain’s novels challenged the fundamental issues that faced the America of his time; racism, evolving landscapes, class barriers, access to education and more
  3. It is a satire of society.
    1. Separated from society Huck listens to his moral conscience without the enforcement of others and finds it on his own. By being separated from society he has the opportunity to learn his own values and decide to save Jim even if its against the law/ his upbringing. This act also challenges the concept that laws are solely human constructs that should constantly be questioned in order to progress society and religion. He found that his morals go against his religion and declared,“All right, then, I’ll go to hell!” Where stealing “property” is sinful, but Jim is his friend and he knows in his heart that he must put friendship first. The concept being challenged is not his own values rather than this situation would be different if Jim was not considered property. As well as if this little boy, who is clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed (although he has a few redeeming moments) is able to understand that people are not property– the rest of an educated society should be able to grasp that too. 
  4. In reality this is a children’s story that is meant to introduce more mature topics into conversation. 

 

Why Huckleberry Finn is still problematic.

  1. It’s undermining sexist assumptions about women and their roles in society.
    1. Just one example is “The Widow” — she is his primary mother figure and she isn’t even given a name. She is defined by her lack of male figure in her life and is labeled by that title, restricting her to a single role. 
  2. The language.
    1. There is a very racist language using historical terms that are extremely offensive and should not be thrown about in discussion. If read its language should be addressed as what it was– since we are currently residing in modern times where society has evolved. Slurs are not appropriate or excusable to toss in even for “historical accuracy.”
  3. The conclusion.
    1. We work all the way up to Huck finding a sense of moral and deciding to save Jim yet when he does– tom sawyer reverses his character growth. Not only harming Jim’s character presence during the escape through gaslighting the poor man, but regressing Hack back into a morally gray child that does not see the importance of his actions. This conclusion I believe was meant to be a satire showing that society and privileged people (including Tom) have a different perspective that subtracts from morality and seeing both sides of a story. But since the ending is still vague with much room for interpretation– it can be misused to promote a racist argument and muddle the conversation the story opened up. 

Despite the controversy, one cannot discount the book’s importance. And I personally believe that it should be kept for a lot of reasons. While I also believe it takes a lot of patience and time addressing the issues and ambiguous topics in the novel.



Love in “Daisy Miller” and “Beast in the Jungle”

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I found it interesting that in both “Daisy Miller” and “Beast in the Jungle,” James chooses to represent fulfillment through love. Both Winterbourne and Marcher seem to be trapped in the “unlived life” while their lost lovers, Daisy and May, seem to live life completely. If James were to write a story simply about the consequences of unrealized potential and a life of inaction, why does he include this trope? Does he mean to imply that a fulfilling life is not defined by a fulfilling career, or a higher purpose, but by true love?

While certainly not untrue, I have always received the impression that James implies more. He seems to warn against the seduction of luxury, the blindness of arrogance, and generally seems adverse to the inertia afforded by aristocratic elites. However, this does not explain what he could mean by making both male characters suffer at the hands of unrealized love. 

Interestingly, the women in both stories seem completely fulfilled in their own rights, but without them, the male protagonists are clearly lost. Indeed, the names “Daisy” and “May” coincide with images of life and opportunity, while “Winterbourne” and “Marcher” are reminiscent of only decay and grimness. To me, this seems to suggest something about the nature of relationships, and perhaps their necessity to men specifically. 

This would certainly be an interesting position to take at the time, for generally, it was thought that women’s lives were completed by men (rather than the other way around). Perhaps, James suggests that it is women who push men forward, and men who are lost without them. It is interesting to wonder, was James a feminist, or perhaps just a big romantic? 

Gossip, Reputation, and Society in James’ Works

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After reading both Daisy Miller and The Beast in the Jungle, I noticed that the ways that social norms appear in each story are quite different, particularly the main characters’ various reactions to gossip and pressure from society.  

The importance of having a good reputation is very emphasized in Daisy Miller, and it plays a large role in the motivations of the characters, especially Winterbourne. When the reader is introduced to Winterbourne, the very first thing that James tells us about him is what others think of him; there’s speculation surrounding his relationships with women, but he has no enemies in society because he is “an extremely amiable fellow, and universally liked.” We spoke in class about how Winterbourne is a bland character with seemingly limited interests of his own; James’ initial characterization of him shows that he’s this way because to him, a person is who others say they are, so Winterbourne has crafted his personality around being generally palatable and is boring as a result, because no one can be both interesting and liked by everyone. Daisy’s character proves this, as she has the most unique and noticeable personality in the story, but she’s also the biggest target of rumors and defamation. Differently from Winterbourne, Daisy is not quelled into submission by the negative things people say about her, mostly surrounding her “flirty” demeanor with men and socially inappropriate independence for a woman. If anything, the town gossip may prompt her to “act out” even more, continuing to engage in the same behavior around men and insisting to walk around freely at night. Although the two have a mutual fondness for each other, Winterbourne and Daisy’s diametrically opposed views of social convention ultimately drive them apart and lead to Daisy’s downfall, demonstrating the commitment society demands from the individual – in this case, it’s quite literally to conform or to die.

In contrast to Winterbourne and Daisy, Beast’s Marcher and May are far less preoccupied with the opinions of others, but this has a lot to do with their personalities and relationship. Although Marcher has a group of acquaintances and attends social outings at the beginning of the story, he doesn’t give much weight to how society perceives him. I think this is because the inability to speak about his consuming obsession with his fate has made him feel cut off from the present and thus, he is also unable to connect with the daily lives and affairs of the people around him, let alone keep up with social discourse. He knows that “the rest of the world” thinks him “queer,” but this doesn’t matter to him, especially after he finds a confidante in May, the only person he feels he doesn’t need to put on “a mask” for. May, for her part, seems to absorb Marcher’s nonchalance toward public opinion. As she takes up Marcher’s position of secrecy around his all-important fate, every appearance they make together in society is imbrued in a conspiratorial atmosphere that is shared just between the two of them, causing May to join in Marcher’s dissociated bubble, in which he is also the only one who truly knows her. Although they somewhat make an effort to appear “normal” in public, this is mostly for convenience rather than a need to feel accepted, because they came to the conclusion “from an early hour” that “society [is], luckily, unintelligent.” However, despite their close connection, James ultimately paints their relationship as unfulfilled because Marcher doesn’t realize the depth of May’s feelings for him until it’s too late, and he failed to commit to May by not marrying her.

I think that the differences in how James portrays the impact of social structure in each story are really interesting to unpack, especially because the characters can’t seem to get it right. In Daisy Miller, the over-importance of reputation and social standing cause the destruction of a relationship and Daisy’s death, but in The Beast in the Jungle, Marcher’s dismissal of typical social conventions causes him to lose sight of the value of genuine connections with others and to squander what he could have had with May.

Looking at the stories side by side, I think that James communicates that while arbitrary customs and rules given by society are harmful, a life spent without the companionship and appreciation of others is a life wasted.

Names and Months in Beast in the Jungle

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I think the months represented by each of the two main characters names are a metaphor for what the two characters mean to one another.

March is one of the most dreary months of the year. May is nearly the opposite of March: there are flowers, the sun is out—by May spring has sprung. March is also the precursor to spring. Similarly in spirit to what the character May attempts to do for Marcher, spring brings March out of the winter into more lively months.

However, the month May does not follow the month March. April, the same month that the character May dies in, follows March. I think this was James’ play on the fact that Marcher fails to fall in love with May the same way that the month May cannot pull the month March into the spring. The character May, at least while alive, cannot make Marcher realize what his fate is and how to escape it—by opening up and expressing his love for her. Marcher only realizes what is fate was through May’s death in April, just as the month April follows March. The month April, representing the character May’s death, is ultimately what ends Marcher.

James makes his metaphor explicitly clear in the last paragraph, reminding us of when May died as well as using the word “sprung” four times: “the Beast, at its hour, had sprung; it had sprung in that twilight of the cold April”—spring (the season) springs when the Beast springs—April.

Did Marcher really waste his life?

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After being disappointed with Daisy Miller, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Beast in the Jungle, although I feel like my takeaway might again be a little different than James intended.

The story follows John Marcher, a man who doesn’t seem to have that much going on, but who feels a powerful fate looming, a fate that will alter the course of his life, “striking at the root of [his] world and leaving [him] to the consequences.” He doesn’t know what this fate is, but he’s sure he’ll know when it happens. He finds a companion in May Bartram, the only person with whom he has ever shared his secret fate, who, for whatever reason, is just as invested in it as he is. The two agree to keep their secret and wait for this fate together. Marcher and May essentially live their lives as each other’s only company, sometimes talking about Marcher’s fate, but usually just spending time together. As they grow old, Marcher suspects that May knows his fate, and upon confronting her, he learns that she does and that it has already passed. To spare him the emotional turmoil, May never tells him what it was, but as he stands at May’s grave, Marcher realizes that his fate was to go about his days never experiencing “passion,” as a man “to whom nothing on earth was to have happened,” and he falls on May’s tomb in despair, mourning his wasted opportunities.

I think as readers, we’re meant to understand that Marcher was always going to fall victim to this “fate” of never experiencing a meaningful connection, specifically love, because he too jealously guarded himself and never allowed anyone to get close, too preoccupied with his own future to solidify his relationship with May, to love her and marry her as he should have (and, as it’s implied, she wished he would have as well). However, I reject this conclusion in favor of something a little more optimistic.

I believe that Marcher did love May. When we first meet Marcher, James’ writing suggests that he goes through life unsatisfied and apathetic, the only thing keeping him going is this insane fate that he never shares with anyone because he knows he would sound crazy. However, the second May reminds him that he had told her his secret once before, he is too overcome with emotion to speak. For the first time in his life, he feels truly seen by another person, and he readily accepts this person into his life as a permanent and starring fixture. As they grow older, Marcher believes that his fate (his all-important, all-encompassing life event) may be having to deal with the loss of May, his dearest friend, on his own. After her death, Marcher is deeply bereaved and frustrated because no one could possibly know how deep, how “intimate,” the connection he shared with May really was, and he spends a year traveling the world to fill the hole she left behind. Not to mention the final scene where he literally falls to the ground upon the realization that he didn’t treasure their connection enough. Although his obsession with his fate may have prevented him from “making the most of his life” in the same way that most others aspire to, he somehow found someone on this earth that was just as odd as him, and they spent their lives taking comfort in and caring for each other, and only each other . How is this not love? Just because they didn’t get married? Maybe Marcher didn’t return May’s “passion,” but it’s obvious that even though May knew he wouldn’t marry her, she still wanted him in her life, and Marcher absolutely falls apart after she’s gone. The relationship between the two transcends romantic attachment in favor of something that I would argue is a lot more genuine and substantial.

Although James ultimately portrays Marcher as a tragic monument to loneliness and unfulfilled potential, I believe that Marcher’s life was actually very meaningful because he spent it with someone he loved and who loved him in return, despite them “only” being friends.

The Multiple Beasts in the Jungle

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In the final pages of James’s story, Marcher finally realizes what the beast in the jungle was. Or at least it looks like he does. In any case, it’s a moment of realization that often throughout the short story felt painstakingly postponed, and while Marcher’s epiphany does function as a dramatic resolution of sorts, it also raises some notable questions. Mainly, how many beasts are there in the jungle?

In general terms at least, the metaphor of the beast in the jungle seems clear. The “something rare and strange… that was sooner or later to happen” to Marcher seems to symbolize an experience rooted in love (309). Whether it symbolizes an ignorance of love or a knowledge of that ignorance, however, remains unclear. If we assume the former, it makes sense then that the beast “had sprung in that twilight of the cold April when, pale, ill, wasted, but all beautiful, and perhaps even then recoverable, [May] had risen from her chair to stand before him and let him imaginably guess” at (or recognize) what the beast was (339). At this point, Marcher fails to recognize, reciprocate or manifest any type of love obliquely offered by May, and so the beast “had fallen where it was to fall” (339) and Marcher is doomed to suffer the ramifications of missing “what was to” happen (329).

Of course, there is some ambiguity here. “What was to” happen could refer to what could have happened but now cannot, or it could refer to what has yet to happen. The former makes more sense in this first reading given the fact that the scene describes an encounter with the beast in totality, from jump to landing—there is a certain finality to this encounter with the beast that suggests a missed opportunity. A page later, however, this reading is ostensibly undermined by the appearance of what appears to be a second beast. At this point, it has been years since May’s death and Marcher is at her grave when “he [sees] the Jungle of his life and [sees] the lurking Beast; then, while he looked, perceived it, as by a stir of the air, rise, huge and hideous, for the leap that was to settle him” (340). This beast appears to operate in the exact opposite sense as the first beast. Where the first symbolized a consequential ignorance of love, leaping in a moment of blindness, this beast leaps precisely because Marcher is aware of what he has missed (love, passion, a chance to live his life). In other words, this beast in the jungle only appears because of a recognition of the once-unrecognized, prior beast in the jungle.

It’s difficult to either differentiate or equate these two beasts (and that which they symbolize) clearly, especially when so much of the novel relies on the concept of one profound moment of epiphany. Since they are born out of two distinct circumstances, I’m unsure whether we are meant to assume that this second beast is the same beast as the first, or not. This is all complicated, I think, by the fact that the presence of the first beast is necessitated by the second beast. That is, the second beast is only effective because the first beast was invisible.

intro of The Beast in the Jungle

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Compared to “Daisy Miller,” “The Beast in the Jungle” is evidently a more complicated story. James begins “Daisy Miller” with a clear description of the setting – of Switzerland and European hotels, which become a major topic of discussion throughout the story. In his “The Beast of the Jungle,” he starts off the story with a much more complicated introductory paragraph, and even first sentence: “what determined the speech that startled him in the course of their encounter scarcely matters, being probably but some words spoken of himself quite without intention . . . (Miller 303). James includes many unclear antecedents in this first sentence – “their encounter,” “words spoken of himself,” “the speech” – which peak the readers interest and curiosity, but also confusion.        

            This first paragraph is full of long, rambling sentences which often present very complicated ideas, and well put-together descriptions, but some of them seem to convey rather unnecessary information: for example the people that he describes who are “bending towards objects in out-of-the-way corners” (Miller 303). He continues to expand upon this description of these people are really uninvolved in the scene. Dedicating such a portion of the introduction to the description of these people who are not particularly relevant to the story could be argued to be a waste of words – an unnecessary complication of this introductory paragraph. But he uses this description of the people who are more uninvolved in the scene to pivot into the introduction of one of the main characters – John Marcher.

            Overall the structure of this introductory paragraph is successful in presenting important elements of the text – Marcher and the setting Weatherend. James also establishes the heightened ability of reading that he expects his readers of this story to have – with the more long, complicated sentences that he uses compared to that of “Daisy Miller.” This in conjunction with the following few paragraphs introduces important themes and sets the story up successfully to present both John and Mary, and then to examine their relationship.

Marcher’s Identity (or Lack Thereof)

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In “The Beast of the Jungle”, author Henry James presents main character John Marcher as a contrastingly simplistic yet oddly complex character. As a reader, I personally found it very tough to connect with Marcher as a character. I think that this was mostly true for me because James gives the reader little insight into Marcher’s attributes; there is little description of Marcher’s physical features or personality in the beginning of the novel. This is particularly striking given that James presents various other characters with much more detail. In particular, the reader is given insight into May’s character, whom Marcher initially describes in the first chapter as “distinctly handsome, though ever so much older” (1). However, despite Marcher’s lack of character, James does offer the reader oddly specific details about Marcher. For example, we learn in the first chapter about Marcher’s “secret” that he believes that he is destined for something “rare and strange”, whether it be good or bad. Such a detail seems out of place for Marcher’s character, who seems like he could be replaced by anyone. 

 

As a result, these contrasting parts of Marcher’s beg the question of Marcher’s purpose in life. Unlike in other novels where I could tell what certain characters’ goals are in their lives through dialogue/personality, it is impossible to read into what Marcher’s identity is as James gives us little insight into how Marcher thinks. It seems as if Marcher has little purpose in life, and James merely creates this “secret” to make Marcher’s life seem more interesting. 

Innocence and Daisy Miller

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I think a big theme in this story is Daisy and her innocence which is also unknowingness. This is demonstrated in her courtship with men as she does not seem to know (or does not care) about the proper way to go about the matter. This can be seen as very American as traditionally, we bring our customs with us overseas and do not care to learn of the local customs. However, it can also be seen as a form of innocence. Through the story, Winterbourne is absorbed by the question of her innocence and does not know what to make of her. Is the way she acts because of her innocence or is it because she just has a lack of concern for the proper way to act? And what does the word innocense actually mean? Another place this is shown is when Winterbourne comes across Daisy at the Coliseum where it is known that there is a high presence of malaria. Daisy seems to be unaware of this, showing her innocence and perhaps naiveté. It, therefore, seems fitting that Daisy actually dies because of her innocence. Even at her gravestone, Giovanelli mentions her innocence, proving it to be main trait and a fatal one at that.  

Clothing in Daisy Miller

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(Note: I am not reading Daisy Miller from the same book as is on the syllabus, so I do not have the same page numbers)

Something I was particularly struck by when reading Daisy Miller was how frequently the narrator describes Winterbourne noticing Daisy’s clothes. When Winterbourne first sees Daisy, he describes: “She was dressed in white muslin, with a hundred frills and flounces, and knots of pale-colored ribbon. She was bareheaded, but she balanced in her hand a large parasol, with a deep border of embroidery; and she was strikingly, admirably pretty” (James 3-4). This emphasis on Daisy’s clothes continues throughout the novella – though the actual design of her outfit is only described one more time, before they travel to the castle. The rest of the descriptions of Daisy’s clothing has to do with how she fidgets with her clothes; it seems to be happening almost constantly. Here are a few examples:

“The young girl glanced over the front of her dress and smoothed out a knot or two of ribbon” (4)

“The young lady inspected her flounces and smoothed her ribbons again; and Winterbourne presently risked an observation upon the beauty of the view” (4)

“Winterbourne stood looking after her; and as she moved away, drawing her muslin furbelows over the gravel, said to himself that she had the tournure of a princess” (8)

“Winterbourne was watching the young girl… She stood there, smiling a smoothing her bonnet ribbons” (19)

“… Daisy delivered herself with the sweetest, brightest audibleness, looking now at her hostess and now round the room, while she gave a series of little pats, round her shoulders, to the edges of her dress” (24)

(And she even adjusts Mrs. Walker’s clothing: “… giving a twist to a bow on this lady’s dress… fingering Mrs. Walker’s ribbons” (18))

As I was reading, I was wondering why Henry James would include so many similar descriptions of Daisy and my first assumption was that James, here, is trying to reveal that Daisy is more anxious than she acts. However, thinking more about it, I realized that what it really does is call attention to the fact that she is being watched. In fact, all of the descriptions of Daisy rearranging or fixing her clothes are contained in the larger context of Winterbourne staring at her, analyzing her, or judging her. In the end, I think that these descriptions of Daisy say far more about Winterbourne than they do about her because they reveal something implicitly predatory in his gaze that makes her nervous. I think this reveals an important contradiction of beauty and clothing; Daisy uses her external appearance to assume agency over her image, but in doing so, she is made subject to her society’s gaze.   

What what the point of Daisy?

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As I read and reread the last few pages of Daisy Miller, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “what just happened?” I’m a first-time reader, so Daisy’s death at the end of the story really came as a shock to me. However, there’s a difference between shocking your reader with a deliberately-crafted plot twist versus disorienting your reader with a nonsensical ending, and unfortunately, I think that the conclusion of Daisy Miller falls under the latter category. Ultimately, my main problem with how the story ends is that it throws the entire purpose of Daisy’s character into confusion.

When Daisy is first introduced, she quickly becomes the focus of Winterbourne’s interest. Although Winterbourne’s exact intentions aren’t exactly known, he undoubtedly distinguishes Daisy because of her “pretty” looks and her tendency to talk a lot, which he does not consider typical behavior of “young girls.” Although Winterbourne initially enjoys Daisy, he’s unhappy to hear the gossip surrounding her family, and from then on, although he seems to want very much to like and spend time with her, he finds Daisy’s refusal to conform to social norms to be less charming and more uncouth and unbecoming. When he discovers Daisy out alone at night with her believed fiance, Giovanelli, Winterbourne writes Daisy off as a “little American flirt” who is no longer worthy of his time. However, shortly before Daisy’s untimely death from Roman fever, which she caught on the night out with Giovanelli, Winterbourne learns that Daisy was not engaged, and after Daisy passes away, he realizes that he misjudged her and believes that “she would have appreciated [his] esteem.” I think that this sequence of events by itself would pretty effectively communicate a message that not all society gossip should be trusted, and that somewhat would adopt a feminist position, with Daisy as the misunderstood real hero of the story.

However, Daisy Miller’s death, and more specifically the illness she died from, prevent me from coming to this conclusion. “Roman fever” is mentioned a few times throughout the story, and although it was a real sickness, Daisy Miller frames it as an illness that is most likely to be contracted by going around the town and night, and that is especially threatening to delicate young women, coincidentally, like Daisy. If the quasi-feminist takeaway that I described above held up, I believe that James would not have had Daisy succumb to her sickness, and instead overcome it. But, as we know, Daisy does die from Roman fever, so my question now is, did James intend this death to ultimately signify that Daisy’s lifestyle was unsustainable for a young woman, thus portraying the character as a cautionary tale? After all, it was Daisy’s choice to go on the night outing where she contracted the illness, and if she had not done this, she would still be alive. 

I couldn’t hope to decipher what exactly James was trying to do, but this ending just left me very unsatisfied, as it ultimately read to me as “being a woman with opinions is good… as long as you don’t have too many opinions because this will lead to your demise.” Definitely not inspiring feminist literature, but it seems that it wasn’t meant to be.

The Infantilization of Women in “Daisy Miller”

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Something that struck me while reading part one of “Daisy Miller” was the way that Winterbourne considers her. It isn’t made very clear how old she is, but it is presumable she is of a reasonably grown age given that she discusses having suitors and Winterbourne is interested in her. However, she is consistently referred to as a child or a “young girl.” For example after introducing herself and discussing her life in New York, the narrator notes that “it was many years since [Winterbourne] had heard a young girl talk so much.” It was not unusual for women to be referred to as “girls” if they were unmarried, but the addition of the word “young” in this context is really weird. Later, the narrator describes her as “looking at Winterbourne with all her prettiness in her lively eyes and in her light.” The word “pretty” is somewhat of a juvenile way of describing someone. It lacks the depth of words like “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” or “stunning,” for example. Again, it evokes this image of a child. These descriptions of Daisy infantilize her character in a way that’s meant to express that she is attractive, which is really odd. Later it happens again when the narrator describes that “this young girl was not a coquette in that sense; she was very unsophisticated; she was only a pretty American flirt.” The word’s “young,” “girl, “unsophisticated,” and “pretty” reiterated this theme of her being admired for being childlike. The inclusion of “unsophisticated” and “only” additionally minimize her character in addition to the descriptions of her appearance of being young.

The association of attraction with a women who is socially confused and young looking just evokes the image of a child. Attraction to women who present like children is pervasive in many areas of society even now. It can be seen in adult fashion trends featuring elements associated with children like butterfly patterns, pigtails, or colored hair clips for example and in the obsession with quiet women, shaved women, or short women. It is not that these features need to be considered bad, but rather that they’re symptoms of a greater problem that often goes unnoticed. In this story it’s very apparent, especially since Daisy’s primary role in part 1 is to create plot for Winterbourne. 

On a completely different note, I laughed when I first started reading this story at the discussion of American candy at the beginning of the story. When I went to Geneva a few years ago, I found the names of American candy there to be hilarious. For example, “Sour Patch Kids” candy is called “Very Bad Kids” and Doritos are literally called: 

 

Chopin’s indirect voice through the detailing of the characters’ race

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What caught my attention in “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin is how the suspense and the reader’s desire or the reader’s need to keep reading (in order to get a better understanding of what is happening in the story) is rooted in the intentional ambiguity of race at the beginning. In “Désirée’s Baby”, Chopin’s lack of explicit detailing of the characters’ race at the beginning pushes the reader to keep reading and better understand Désirée’s and the baby’s situation. When reading the story for the first time, it can be confusing for the reader to see Madame Valmondé exclaim “That is not the baby” and Désirée replying to this remark in a laugh with “I knew you [Madame Valmondé] would be astonished,”. Consequently, as a reader, we know that there’s something special about the baby, when Chopin intentionally leaves the mystery of what is so different and special about Désirée’s baby at the beginning. When Chopin writes “But Armand’s dark, handsome face had not often been disfigured by frowns since the day he fell in love with [Désirée].” – Chopin, on one hand, misleads the reader to immediately characterize Armand as a black man, but on the other hand foreshadows the ending of the story, where we discover that Armand is of mixed race. Chopin leaves race, as it relates to each character, ambiguous and inexplicit, up until moments where she mentions Armand’s “dark, handsome face” or moments where Désirée cries out “It is a lie; it is not true, I am white!”. But even in this moment, where Désirée cries out what she believes to be true (that she is in fact, a white woman), as a reader, we almost share the same uncertainty – that Désirée expresses in a letter to her mother – and once again the race of the characters is left in the hands of the mystery and suspicion of the story. To conclude, I also find it interesting how the sentence and word structure of Chopin’s dialogue in the last paragraph – where we discover that Armand is actually of mixed race –  avoids explicitly stating that Armand’s mother is black. We see this when Chopin writes “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery,” – instead of writing “never know that his mother, who adores him, was black” Chopin charcterizes Armand’s mother’s race in an indirect, passive voice with “never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery”. 

Weather Imagery in Chopin’s Short Stories

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Throughout this course and throughout American Literature in general, authors constantly focus on nature. They do this by making connections with the characters, using humanizing adjectives, and even by writing long paragraphs about the environment (This is a reference to Cooper). I have read Kate Chopin’s work before (The Awakening), and I was not surprised by her intense usage of weather in these short stories. Nevertheless, Chopin exceeded my expectations by using storm imagery to mirror the emotions and actions of her characters.

Obviously, this imagery is clearly seen in The Storm. A storm begins the brew when Bobinot and his son are sitting outside of the store. Simultaneously, his wife, Calixta, encounters a past flame, Alcee. Once they get to talking, the storm becomes more severe. This increase is in accordance with their slight flirtation. They then begin to kiss as they reminisce about their past. As this moment occurs, the storm begins to flare up: “They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms” (Chopin). In the heat of the moment, the storm mimicked their actions. Of course, this moment soon ends and the storm clears up simultaneously: “The growl of the thunder was distant and passing away. The rain beat softly upon the shingles, inviting them to drowsiness and sleep. But they dared not yield” (Chopin). Chopin plays with the elements in order to enhance the relationship between these two characters.

 As a result, the reader sees this story in a completely different light. As the weather works in tandem with the characters, this suggests the outcome of these choices. That is, when these two are engaged in sexual activity, the storm increases. Of course, this activity is considered cheating as both are married. Therefore, it can be suggested that the harshness of the storm is predicting the repercussions of their choices.

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