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Daisy Miller | Study Guide

Henry James

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Daisy Miller | Symbols


Randolph Miller

Cantankerous and homesick, nine-year-old Randolph Miller represents the ugly side of America. He is the quintessential rude American tourist, who so despises being away from home that he refuses to try anything new on his travels. He speaks of the United States in exaggerated terms—it has the "best" candy, unlike Switzerland (home of some of the finest chocolate in the world), and the "best" men, too. Everything in Europe is unsatisfying in comparison. He claims the moon is "always" visible in America but never shines in Europe. He even blames the European climate for making his teeth fall out. James's decision to cast this character as an uneducated, rambunctious child is no coincidence, as that is the stereotypical behavior of Americans traveling abroad. Randolph's outspoken dislike of all things European also highlights the brashness of American culture versus the more refined, formal culture of Europe.

Mrs. Walker's Carriage

Mrs. Walker is so dismayed by Daisy's decision to walk through the streets of Rome in the company of two unmarried men that she offers the young woman the use of her carriage to get back home and redeem her reputation. This is not the first time Daisy refuses a carriage ride—she does the same thing when Winterbourne takes her to the Château de Chillon, preferring the open-air steamboat where everyone could see her over the more intimate and secretive carriage ride.

A carriage such as Mrs. Walker's victoria, an elegant French design, was a symbol of status, wealth, and good breeding. Winterbourne gently suggests that Daisy take Mrs. Walker up on her offer. When Daisy refuses the carriage ride, she is also refusing Mrs. Walker's and Winterbourne's suggestion that she follow the customs of European high society. After Daisy's rejection, Mrs. Walker insists that Winterbourne get in the carriage. He does so without protest, demonstrating his loyalty to the very social conventions Daisy rejects, only to get out again when he tells Mrs. Walker he will not stop seeing Daisy. In this way, the carriage also symbolizes Winterbourne's divided state of mind about Daisy.


The city of Geneva, Switzerland, plays a large role in the lives of several characters in Daisy Miller. Winterbourne was educated and raised in Geneva, where he still makes his home when Daisy Miller begins, and it is the city to which he returns at the end of the novel, possibly to woo a "foreign lady" who lives there. Geneva is also the home of Mrs. Walker, whom he suspects, like himself, of "living too long at Geneva" and adopting its rigid social customs. He speaks with her of the city's strict expectations of those in high society, and their Genevan experiences cause them to ultimately decide Daisy isn't good enough to have the privilege of their company. The reader gets the sense that upper-class Genevans are so focused on proper behavior and etiquette that the city isn't a very fun place. The narrator seems to agree, describing it as "the dark old city at the other end of the lake" from Vevey. Mentions of Geneva in the text therefore symbolize the oppression of independence and individualism, which is everything Daisy represents.

The Colosseum

The ruins of the famed Roman Colosseum play a pivotal role at the climax of Daisy Miller. This is where she and Winterbourne have their final confrontation and Winterbourne decides to be rid of her forever. It is also where she allegedly catches "Roman fever." Built in the first century CE, the Colosseum was a round amphitheater, or outdoor arena, known for bloody spectator sports. Gladiators battled to the death and prisoners were executed there, all for the sake of public entertainment. Among those who died in the Colosseum were many Christians, executed for their religion, who were killed by arrows, lions, and open-air roasting. Daisy alludes to this when she spots Winterbourne lurking in the shadows: "[H]e looks at us as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs!" In Daisy Miller, the Colosseum is symbolic of sacrifice, both of those who died there in the past and of the innocent young woman, cast out of society, who dies in Rome.

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