The ending of “The Beast in the Jungle”

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In the concluding moments of Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle,” we witness a profound transformation in John’s understanding of his life and the fears that have governed it. This ending does not merely serve as a twist or reveal, but rather it offers a deeply symbolic meditation on self-awareness and the human condition. At the core of the novel’s conclusion is the theme of self-ignorance. Throughout the story, Marcher is consumed by the anticipation of a dramatic life event, which he believes will define his entire existence. However, in the stark and solemn moments of the novella’s close, he is confronted with the realization that there has been no external beast; rather, the true beast was his own lack of self-understanding and engagement with the world around him. This moment of self-revelation is portrayed with poignant subtlety by James, highlighting the often-overshadowed literary theme of self-reflection versus self-absorption.

James uses the setting of the graveyard, where Marcher comes to this realization, as a powerful symbol of finality and reflection. The graveyard is traditionally a place of endings, and it symbolically represents Marcher’s internal acknowledgment of his own emotional and experiential demise. The stark, quiet atmosphere of the cemetery amplifies the internal silence and emptiness Marcher feels, making it a perfect backdrop for the climax of his personal narrative. The structure of the narrative itself mirrors the unpredictability and often the anticlimactic nature of life. As we follow Marcher’s journey, we are similarly led to expect a dramatic climax or a definitive resolution, which mirrors Marcher’s own expectations for his life. However, James subverts these expectations in a way that reflects the anti-climactic nature of many of our own life’s narratives. This structural choice reinforces the thematic exploration of the often-disappointing disparity between our expectations and reality.

James masterfully manipulates the passage of time within the narrative to heighten the impact of the conclusion. By compressing years into brief passages and expanding moments of realization into lengthy, introspective sections, James plays with the reader’s sense of time and memory, mirroring Marcher’s distorted perception of his own life’s pace and significance. This manipulation serves to enhance the shock of the final revelation, making it not just a plot twist but a profound moment of existential truth.

The ending of “The Beast in the Jungle” is a masterful example of how literature can explore and express complex human emotions and revelations. Henry James uses this conclusion not just to surprise his readers, but to encourage them to think deeply about their own lives and the beasts—real or imagined—that they might be harboring.

Sentence structure in “The Beast in the Jungle”

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One thing I noticed while reading Beast in the Jungle and as we were discussing it in class was that Henry Jame’s writing style changed significantly from Daisy Miller: a Study. However, it seems to be for the worse, or at least to be more confusing. One of the places it was the most prevalent was the beginning, which may have soured my view of the rest of the text so I might be a bit biased here. Take the second sentence for example:

“He had been conveyed by friends, an hour or two before, to the house at which she was staying; the party of visitors at the other house, of whom he was one, and thanks to whom it was his theory, as always, that he was lost in the crowd, had been invited over to luncheon.”

I feel like this sentence interrupts itself so many times that I can’t get a clear understanding of what’s happening. I also feel like this sentence could have been written in a much more concise way that emphasizes that Marcher was lost. However, it could also be that by writing in this way and confusing the reader, James conveys Marcher’s confusion. Father down the page, James also seems to describe the feeling of awe and wanting to own something you would see in a museum further down the first page. I had to read it a few times to understand what he was saying, and I feel like this could have also been written in a more concise way, as he seems to almost be writing in full circles before moving on to the next detail about what he’s describing.

The Role of Memory and Reflection in “The Beast in the Jungle”

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Through John Marcher, James explores how memories and the act of reflecting on the past can dictate the course of one’s life, influencing decisions, shaping relationships, and eventually leading to profound realizations or poignant regrets.

John lives a life dominated by a singular obsession with “the beast in the jungle.” This anticipation prevents him from living in the present and makes his life a constant wait for a future event. However, it is through his reflections on his past and his memories of interactions with May, that the real narrative of his life unfolds.

Memory in “The Beast in the Jungle” serves both as a mirror and a maze. For Marcher, memories of his time with May are initially reflective surfaces, showing only his interpretation of their shared past, which is steeped in his own fears and obsessions. However, as the story progresses and especially after May’s death, these memories become a maze that Marcher navigates, uncovering deeper meanings and missed signals that he had previously ignored or misunderstood.

The transformative power of reflection is crucial in the work. As Marcher looks back on his life after May’s death, he engages in deeper introspection. He starts to see the gaps between his memories and the reality of those moments, recognizing how his obsession with the beast blinded him to May’s love and the possibilities of a fuller life. This delayed reflection brings a painful clarity: the realization that the catastrophe he had been awaiting was metaphorically the catastrophic waste of his own life—his failure to engage with life and love meaningfully.James uses these themes to question the reliability of memory and the impacts of reflective introspection.

For Marcher, memory is not just a recollection of the past but a reconstructive process that shapes his understanding of himself and his relationships. It is through this reconstruction that he comes to understand his failures, emphasizing that memory and reflection can sometimes lead to transformation, but also to regret when they come too late.


The Intricate Dance of Fate and Free Will in Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle

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While I was reading the text, it became clear that Marcher’s life was marked by a peculiar passivity, a waiting for “the beast in the jungle” that he believes will pounce on him uniquely and decisively. This conviction that he is meant for a singular, extraordinary fate prevents him from living fully, trapping him in a perpetual state of expectation and fear. It is this very expectation that becomes his destiny, overshadowing every decision he makes and every relationship he forms.

The most significant of these relationships is with May, who learns of his secret fear and decides to watch alongside him, waiting for this unknown fate to manifest. Their relationship is characterized by this shared anticipation, which both connects them and holds them at a distance from deeper intimacy. Here, James brilliantly showcases the interplay between destiny and choice: Marcher’s choice to embrace his peculiar destiny impacts not only his life but also May’s.

As the narrative unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that Marcher’s obsession with his destiny blinds him to the realities of his life, particularly the true nature of his relationship with May. In his focus on the catastrophic future, he overlooks the real and quiet catastrophe occurring in the present—his squandered life and the missed opportunities for genuine human connection. May, in her patience and quiet understanding, represents both a choice and a destiny unacknowledged by Marcher until it is too late.

The climax of the story, where Marcher realizes that the beast was the very catastrophe of having missed out on living life because of his fear of it, flips the initial premise of the story on its head. What he anticipated as a dramatic external event was instead a subtle, internal demise—a life unlived due to the paralysis of his own choices. This revelation is James’s poignant critique on human nature: the real beasts, perhaps, are not the fates that befall us, but the choices we make, and sometimes, the choices we fail to make.

“The Beast in the Jungle” is a powerful exploration of how our beliefs about our destiny can dictate the course of our lives. It challenges the reader to consider how much of life is determined by fate and how much by the choices we make—or those we avoid. Through Marcher’s story, James invites us to reflect on our own lives: Are we too waiting for “the beast” at the expense of the present moment? How do our fears of what might happen shape what actually happens in our lives?

Why did Marcher leave London?

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After May’s death, Marcher decided to quit London but first went to visit May’s grave where he found himself “powerless to penetrate the darkness of death” (James, 335). This darkness parallels the light that Marcher witnessed surrounding May before her death. Now that she is dead, Marcher finds that her light is gone, and yet, he is unable to do anything about it. Despite this, Marcher still holds onto hope that May’s spirit and light will reach him through her grave.  Marcher “kneeled on the stones, however, in vane” and found that it was “like a pair of eyes that didn’t know him” and that “no palest light broke” (James, 335). It is almost as if Marcher went to May’s grave before he left in order to make sure that May could not reach him in London. Marcher held onto some semblance of hope after her death. A hope that maybe his beast was that May’s spirit was not completely gone, and that she could be the Beast in the Jungle watching him from afar. The act of May’s death may have been the great atrocity of his life and May’s spirit afterwards would always be present but not visible like a beast in a jungle. 

After Marcher went to May’s grave and found that her light was completely gone, he finalized his decision to leave London. For the first time since meeting May, Marcher decided to run from his catastrophic fate. May kept him present in London and provided companionship for him through their shared confession of Marcher’s secret.  As soon as she died Marcher decided to “stay away, after this, for a year” and found that “the state of mind in which he had lived for so many years shone out to him, in reflection, as a light that colored and refined” (James, 335). For the first time, Marcher reflected on his life without May in it and decided that without her he had lost everything. Marcher was now simply as common as everyone else, and his own light was nothing compared to May’s. Marcher’s decision to travel outside of London emphasizes his desire for an escape of the place where he and May lived together and a hope that he would find another light outside of London (to no avail).  

Foreshadowing of May’s Death

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James’ foreshadowing of May’s death is a subtle but pervasive detail in the narrative. Alongside all of the other foreshadowing present in the novel—pertaining to John’s “beast”—May’s death nearly goes unnoticed. However, there is a particular scene in Chapter 4 which stood out to me:

“May Bartram sat, for the first time in the year, without a fire; a fact that […] gave the scene of which she formed part a smooth and ultimate look, an air of knowing, in its immaculate order and cold meaningless cheer, that it would never see a fire again.”

The absence of a fire in May’s sitting room not only symbolizes the physical coldness of the space, but May also described to “never see a fire again,” hints at a metaphorical emptiness within herself. This imagery evokes a sense of completion or closure, as if everything—even her life—has reached its final state. However, James’ diction here is interesting, because May is also described to have “an air of knowing,” as if May herself may be aware, on some level, of her impending doom. The subtle details reinforce the overarching theme of inevitability and the sense of foreboding in the narrative. It suggests that, despite the characters’ attempts to deny or evade the future, certain events are predestined and cannot be avoided. May’s death, like the “beast” that haunts John, looms over the story, waiting to be realized.

– Siena Rose

A Prediction

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At the time of writing this, I’m currently on Chapter IV. This post is to record my reactions to certain details and to name my prediction before I learn what the “beast” is in “The Beast in the Jungle”.

(And also, I must admit, to feed my ego if the prediction turns out to be right)

He would thoroughly establish the heads under which her affairs, her requirements, her peculiarities—he went so far as to give them the latitude of that name—would come into their intercourse.

(Chapter II, Project Gutenberg)

What are May’s “affairs”? Never once does he talk about her story or her “affairs”, as much as he says here that he tries to give them just as much attention as his own big event.

“What if she should have to die before knowing, before seeing—?”  It would have been brutal, in the early stages of her trouble, to put that question to her; but it had immediately sounded for him to his own concern, and the possibility was what most made him sorry for her.

(Chapter III, Project Gutenberg)

As much as Marcher tries to tell himself he’s at least a “decent” or “unselfish” person, his thought process here indicates pretty much the opposite:

  • First, it struck him how old May had become over the years, which is hilarious that he didn’t even pay attention to her appearance all that time.
  • The fact that his worry is about her dying before witnessing this big event is a greater testament to his selfishness. He is not concerned for her well-being or sad that her health is failing.

Also, Marcher and May? I can’t believe it took me this long to catch this.

“Too ill to tell me?” it sprang up sharp to him, and almost to his lips, the fear she might die without giving him light. He checked himself in time from so expressing his question, but she answered as if she had heard the words.

“Don’t you know—now?”

(Chapter IV, Project Gutenberg

Again, she is obviously in pain as they are having this conversation, and all he focuses on is himself. Even worse, he leaves right after she is carried into bed, without giving a single thought to stay to make sure she’s okay.

This leads me to think that the ‘beast’ is the fact that he’s unknowingly become this selfish person, an absolutely terrible friend despite all his efforts in making sure that he isn’t. He’s contradicted himself. He’s broken the image of his moral superiority that he’s worked so hard to maintain. He’s tried to be a ‘good friend’ by reciprocating May’s relationship with all these materialistic things like opera nights and luxrious stuff, but he fails to give her the mindfulness and care of a true friend.

May and Light in Chapter IV

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In chapter IV of Henry James’s The Beast in the Jungle, May is slowly dying as the seasons turn warmer. James utilizes the imagery of light in this chapter in order to explain the importance of May to Marcher’s life. May is literally the light in Marcher’s life as she is the only person who knows Marcher’s secret, and consequently, the only person that Marcher can confide in. This also foreshadows the end of the novel when Marcher realizes that loosing May drained him of his own happiness and life, or rather of his light. 

James begins chapter IV by writing, “He had gone in late to see her, but evening had not settled, and she was presented to him in that long, fresh light of waning   April days which affects us often with a sadness sharper than the grayest hours of Autumn” (James, 323). By comparing May to the sadness of an April day before it dawns, James is foreshadowing her death. May’s light is about to dawn and end, just as the April day will. This sadness is much more sad than that of the gray days of Autumn because Marcher understands what is about to happen, and yet he has no ability to prevent or stop the inevitable. Just as Marcher cannot stop the day from dawning, he also cannot stop May’s death. When Marcher enters into May’s home he notices that “May Bertram sat, for the first time in the year, without a fire” and that she understood “in its immaculate order and its cold, meaningless cheer, that it would never see a fire again” (James, 324). The lack of a fire emphasizes that May’s death is closer than it had originally seemed. Her fire has burnt out and what lay behind was only the shell of the woman who Marcher once knew. By stating that May will never see a fire again, James reveals that May will not recover from her sickness and will be deceased before the fall. The extended use of light through the sun and fire both reveals that May provides happiness and love for Marcher, and that this light will soon be gone with her death. 



Daisy’s Demise

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Reading Alex’s post had me thinking about the conclusion of the novella on a deeper level: on one level, Daisy’s death can be interpreted as a direct result of her refusal to conform to the social etiquette expected of a young woman in her position. Throughout the story, Daisy is warned about the dangers of Rome in the off-season, not only in terms of health but also regarding her reputation. Her continued nighttime visits to the Colosseum, despite these warnings, symbolize her rebellion against the constraints imposed by society. Her death then can be seen as a harsh punishment meted out by societal norms, almost as if the conservative elements of the culture she flouts are claiming their final revenge.

Yet, there’s a deeper, more tragic irony in Daisy’s death. She dies misunderstood, labeled as reckless and morally questionable by the society she lives in. However, from her perspective and arguably from a modern standpoint, she is merely exercising her freedom to choose her companions and her actions. Daisy’s tragic fate highlights the dangers of rigid social structures that prioritize conformity over individual wellbeing. It’s not just a physical ailment that claims her life but also the social isolation and emotional stress caused by constant judgment and exclusion.

Moreover, as stated in one of my posts, Daisy’s death serves as a moment of realization for Winterbourne, the narrator, who spends much of the novella oscillating between admiration for Daisy’s independence and judgment of her actions based on societal expectations. Only in retrospect does he question whether he ever truly understood Daisy or if he too readily accepted the social codes that condemned her. This reflection invites readers to consider their own perspectives and biases, making Daisy’s story not just a critique of 19th-century social mores but a timeless reflection on the conflict between individual identity and societal pressure. In this way, the ending of Daisy Miller is both a critique of societal expectations and a tragedy of personal freedom.

Winterbourne, the observer

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In “Daisy Miller,” I found Frederick Winterbourne’s role as an observer fascinating, in that he not only acts as the conduit for the way we read the story, but also becomes a device that hones into the intricacies of social perception, misjudgment, and personal reflection.

Winterbourne’s observation exists between two perspectives: the American straightforwardness he was raised in and the European sophistication he has adopted. This makes him a critical yet often unreliable narrator, whose judgments and misunderstandings become a lens through which we view Daisy. and the text as a whole.

Throughout the work, he attempts to unravel Daisy, trying to figure out if she’s merely a naive American girl, or representative of something more rebellious and threatening to established social norms. His oscillation between these views reflects the broader theme of how difficult it is to truly understand someone’s character and motivations from the outside, a parallel with what the reader experiencesg. As an observer, Winterbourne’s perceptions are clouded by his own cultural biases and personal desires, illustrating the limitations and potential errors in judgment that can come from relying solely on external observation – and as readers, we similarly view her through his own biases and  misunderstandings.

His role is also explored through the reactions of other characters and society at large. Daisy is constantly being watched and judged by those around her, which highlights how societal expectations and gossip can shape and even distort the perception of an individual. This collective observation contributes to the social pressures and isolation that Daisy faces, leading to her ultimate tragic fate.

Winterbourne’s final reflection on Daisy’s character and his possible misjudgment of her intentions underscores another critical aspect: his self-reflection. It is only after Daisy’s death that Winterbourne ponders whether he has misinterpreted her actions and intentions, prompting the reader to consider our own judgments and biases.

This exploration of the observer’s role in “Daisy Miller” serves as a poignant critique of the era’s social dynamics, highlighting the dangers of misinterpretation and the often overlooked depth of individual experience. It also invites readers to consider their own roles as observers in their social environments, the books we read, and the media we consume, challenging us to question how our perceptions are shaped and to what extent they are true to reality.


Self-Made Obstacles in The Beast in the Jungle

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While I absolutely found this novella more difficult to digest than Daisy Miller, I found the messaging about love and fate fascinating. I was particularly struck by a line that I think captured the nature of Marcher’s relationship with May Bartram, in which the narrator says “She only kept him waiting, however; that is he only waited” (328). The distinction between the notion of May being in control of Bartram’s actions versus the reality of Marcher waiting without having a reason to signifies how Bartram’s own ideas of the spectacular event or catastrophe headed his way blinds him to the life and love available to him. Ultimately, the idea of May keeping him waiting in ignorance to his fate presents how his obsession with answers hindered him from taking May at her word and moving on.
I also think that this line could signify the consistent instances of miscommunication between May and John, as they both have unfinished conversations that falter and resume, such as when John failed to address the question of whether or not he was afraid, and how May avoided the question of what saves her. I also found the notion of John’s burden becoming May’s burden as particularly interesting and reflective of the closeness of their relationship, while the emphasis on differentiation between her reaction and John’s reaction to sharing a life reflects their individual perceptions of their relationship. For example, John feared opening up his life and secret to another as he regards, “His conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, wasn’t a privilege he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him”. Such a description implies that his self-restraint and guilt regarding his burden of information serves as his biggest obstacle whereas May is willing to open up to his faults in order to spend a life with him. The narrator juxtaposes John’s stress with May’s perspective, saying, “She at least never spoke of the secret of his life except as ‘the real truth about you,’ and she had in fact a wonderful way of making it seem, as such, the secret of her own life too” (315). As the omniscient narrator acknowledges the ease in which May adopts John’s experiences, her love and compassion shines through whereas John remains at arm’s length. In this way, there is irony in John supposing for the latter half of their relationship that May is withholding the truth about his consequence, since he fails to open up to her and ultimately prevents true love and happiness within his life, wasting away without really living.

Is this a romance? – Katz blog post 8

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Throughout this story, I tried to keep the question of “what is this really about?” at the forefront of my mind. While I do have some thoughts, this question still puzzles me. The plot is fairly simple – Marcher runs into Bartram to whom he previously confessed his secret, and then as they’re waiting for this “beast” to reveal itself, she dies and he has to contend with the fact that while he was waiting, he missed out on life and on being with her. Part of me thinks this is supposed to be a metaphor for anxiety or some other affliction that causes you to be so focused on one thing that you miss out on simply living your life and being happy (this could even be extended to people focusing to heavily on a career or on achieving an arbitrary goal). Another part of me thinks it’s more specific than that, and that James’ is trying to show the devastation of missing out on love. The ending pushes me towards the latter explanation, or makes me think it’s a combination of both. 

On page 339, he thinks “The escape would have been to love her; then, then he could have lived.” Here, James explicitly states that the way to ‘escape’ the affliction that Marcher suffers from is to find love, and then to allow yourself to love. While this may be getting to biographical, I wonder if he may have experienced this struggle in his own lifetime when being gay meant that understanding who you love, and accepting that you love them, was more challenging. In this sense, the story seems like a romance (or a failed romance), in which a man comes to terms with the love of his life and how he, and his own ego, selfishness, and lack of understanding of his own feelings, unconsciously messes up the relationship. I enjoy reading it through this lens as I like the added element of tragic romance, and I think the references to it are fairly clear. However, to my original point, I could also see this work being read more generally about the dangers of letting life (not just love) pass you by. 

Irony in The Beast in the Jungle

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I found myself almost laughing at the irony of James’ characterization of John Marcher as an entirely unselfish character amongst a world of greed. James introduces the character of John Marcher as a man haunted by the anticipation of “something” happening to him.  He does keep this so-called secret to himself and in this secrecy decides that “this was why he had such good—though possibly such rather colourless—manners; this was why, above all, he could regard himself, in a greedy world, as decently—as in fact perhaps even a little sublimely—unselfish (pg).” Throughout the story it becomes increasingly clearer to the reader that he is in fact entirely selfish in his life by using  May Bartram as simply a means to his own motivations. It becomes incredibly clear once May becomes sick and Marcher’s immediate reaction is “it showed him that what was still first in his mind was the loss she herself might suffer.  “What if she should have to die before knowing, before seeing—?”” In this moment, Marcher reveals the hand he always held that he believed May existed solely in pursuit of his anticipation rather than existing for her own life. 

From reading the Chesnutt stories and discussing the presence of satire in some stories, I had a hard time deciding whether I thought his characterization existed as a satirical comment on people who self-declare as “unselfish” being the most selfish or whether it was truly believed. I think you could argue both sides, perhaps he is being unselfish by only subjecting May to his obsession, but I think the description appears as irony. 

The Ending of Daisy Miller: A Study

Loading Likes... The ending of Daisy Miller: A Study seemed to me as if it were a punishment for defying societal norms. Over the course of the story, Daisy presents herself as careless, capricious, and forward, traits that many other high-class people in the story considered unbecoming of a young lady. She constantly flirts with other men, stays out late at night, and encourages men to fight for her affection. In these regards, she’s the epitome of “live fast, die young,” and the ending solidifies that. Ironically, she dies relatively slowly, having time to reflect on some of her past actions and even letting Winterbourne that she wasn’t engaged after all. It was as if the world rejected her very existence and gave her time to think about how she could have been more proper, how she could have lived longer only if she had followed the rules of society.

Additionally, during the funeral Giovanelli remarks that Daisy was “the most innocent young lady he ever saw.” With the way she died, I realized that calling her innocent, both here and the previous times Winterbourne makes that remark, might have less to do with her virtue and more to do with her naivety and ignorance of how the world works. The ending really showed that when you play the game of life, you always play for the highest stakes regardless of if you know it or not.

Randolph and Society

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In the short story Daisy Miller: A Study, the young son Randolph parallels Daisy to represent a break from proper society life. Randolph introduces us to this overarching theme of the novel by his introduction on page 5. Randolph asks Winterbourne for a lump of sugar before exclaiming, “American candy’s the best candy” (James, 5). This boastful nature of Randolph is seen throughout the novel and often comments that “My father’s rich, you bet.” (James, 8). Children of the upperclass would not typically boast that their father is rich because wealth would be the norm for them and the people in their circles. By Randolph bragging that his father is “rich” he is implying that he understands that most of the world does not have nearly as much money as them. Stating this observation out loud not only breaks typical social norms, but also reveals that the Miller family is new to wealth, and consequently, do not fit in with proper society life. Europe for the upperclass is also considered a refined and sophisticated place. Randolph’s lack of understanding of this concept and his headstrong belief that America (specifically New York State) is better, further reveals the Miller family’s introduction as a new money family struggling to fit in. 

Not only does Randolph immediately expose the Miller family as New Money and unsophisticated, but his consistent struggles with bedtime reveal how Daisy herself must have been raised. Randolph is known to stay up well past midnight and creates trouble over the prospect of sleep. Daisy tells the story of how one night Randolph “wouldn’t go to bed at all” and “wasn’t in bed at twelve o’clock” (James, 19). This dynamic displays that Randolph does not have a strong parental figure in his life. Although many kids refuse bedtime, not many kids are indulged in this desire. Similarly to Randolph, Daisy also lacks a true parental figure and is often seen past decent hours with many gentleman callers. Randolph represents how Daisy grew up and reveals the Miller family dynamics. Randolph is a representation of how Daisy grew up, and consequently, unearths why Daisy is ignorant to many societal expectations. Just like Randolph, no strong parental figure was around to create the perfect societal child. In effect, the Miller family becomes the social outcast to American society life.