Tainted Innocence
Many times when people are in a foreign place, it is hard for them to adapt to its people, customs, and conditions. It takes much time, the influence of others, and the desire to acclimate in order to eventually fit in. Daisy Miller, a young, pretty, naïve American girl experiences much difficulty in her attempt to acclimate to society. Her flirtatious, misleading personality, refusal to follow societal customs, and stubborn naivete make it impossible for her to acclimate to society, and, ultimately, lead to her death.
Daisy is unable to form a lasting relationship with a man because of her inability to treat them right. She can not have a stable, good relationship because she plays with men's emotions. Although she often shows signs of liking Mr. Winterbourne, she is also very mean to him at times. He receives mixed signals from her and ultimately just becomes confused. On one occasion she asks him to row her on a boat under the moonlight, a very romantic situation. Mr. Winterbourne immediately becomes excited and really wants to spend this time with her so he enthusiastically accepts her offer. She, however, laughs at him and refuses to go. "'Oh, I hoped you would make a fuss! I don't care to go now. That's all I want -- a little fuss!' And the young girl began to laugh again. Daisy turned away from Winterbourne, looking at him, smiling and fanning herself. 'Good night,' she said; 'I hope you are disappointed, or disgusted, or something!'" (73). Daisy is very cruel to Winterbourne and has no respect for his feelings. She amuses herself by playing with his emotions, not taking into account how it may hurt him. Winterbourne, initially excited about a great night together with Daisy, is abandoned by her instead. To further intensify the situation, Daisy smiles at him in a teasing way, leaving him thoroughly confused. She certainly does not know how to treat a man.
Daisy is unable to acclimate socially due to her refusal to act according to the customs of Rome. As a foreigner, society watches Miss Miller closely and gossip spreads quickly about her actions. Daisy is often in public and, therefore, quickly establishes a reputation for herself. One day as Daisy is walking along the street with Mr. Giovanni and Mr. Winterbourne, Mrs. Walker approaches them in her carriage and tries to convince Daisy to enter the carriage.
"Do get in and drive with me," said Mrs. Walker.
"That would be charming but it's so enchanting just as I am!"…
"It might be enchanting, dear child, but it is not the custom here," urged Mrs. Walker…"You are old enough to be more reasonable. You are old enough, dear Miss Miller, to be talked about" (91).
Although Mrs. Walker offers Daisy important advice that might save her reputation, she refuses the advice and continues in her actions. Walking along the street with two men is not deemed culturally acceptable by Mrs. Walker or the rest of the Roman society. In the eyes of the people who observe her on the streets she is a promiscuous flirt. She flirts with any man she can pick up and makes a spectacle of herself in the streets by walking between two different men. Mrs. Walker thinks that she can save Daisy's reputation by driving her around town in her carriage, making it visible to everyone that Daisy is not strutting around the streets with numerous men. Daisy refuses her offer even after Mr. Winterbourne agrees that it would be the right thing to do. Daisy creates a reputation for herself that automatically spurns her from society.
Though her emotional and social statuses are very important, most important is her physical condition. Daisy Miller is a foreigner to Rome and therefore is not used to the climate or diseases of Rome. In Rome there is an illness called Roman fever, a very dangerous sickness that is often fatal. Due to her stubborn naivete, Daisy puts herself in a very perilous position. One night as Mr. Winterbourne is out on a walk he notices that Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli are sitting on some steps in the Colosseum under the moonlight. Winterbourne is immediately scared for the poor girl's life.
Winterbourne had now begun