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Daisy Miller: Finding Personal Identity as an Ugly American

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Daisy Miller: Finding Personal Identity as an Ugly American Psychology 112 Vampire Academy for Phlebotomy and Psychology Dracula Smith September 20, 2010 Daisy Miller is forced to address her personal identity in the book because she is only able to identify with being American by putting down others she meets. By today’s standards, Daisy would be considered “fake” or disingenuous. For example, Daisy’s own family tells her secrets and hands out her real intentions to deceive others. Her brother tells Winterbourne that Daisy Miller “isn’t her real name; that isn’t her name on her cards…. Her real name is Annie P. Miller” (Page by Page Books, 2010, p. 2). Winterbourne is of course surprised by each revelation about Daisy, but is quick to put Daisy into the broad category of “American flirt” and decides that “this young girl was not a coquette in that sense; she was very unsophisticated; she was only a pretty American flirt” (Page by Page Books, 2010, p. 6). The foreigners or even expatriates Daisy meets are in the same category of people who (to her own mind) do not rise to this arbitrary standard she has made for herself and others she meets in Europe. She is only interested in talking about herself, and is arrogant, though considered to be charming, with the people she meets. For example, she is condescending to Winterbourne when she first meets him. She asks him if he is German, and tells him that she wonders if he is a “real American” (Page by Page Books, 2010). She tells him that she is from New York State and asks him “if you know where that is” (Page by Page Books, 2010, p. 1), which presupposes that he is not intelligent to know about the basic geography of the United States. To Winterbourne, Daisy moves between being unsophisticated and worldly, but in Daisy’s own eyes, she personally identifies herself with an aristocrat among barbarians. Daisy is in the development stage of finding her personal identity, and identifying with those around her by a type of ego pathology. As a child, or in her case a young woman, Daisy has several opportunities to identify herself, “with real or fictitious people of either sex, with habits, traits, occupations, and ideas” (Erikson, 1980, p. 25). Erikson states that the child will be forced to make selections as to who to dentify with based on events in the child’s life. He adds that the historical era that the child lives in will offer limited numbers of “socially meaningful models for workable combinations of identification fragments” (Erikson, 1980, p. 25). The usefulness of which will depend on how the person can square with the stage of maturity and the development of the person’s ego. A person’s personal identity is based on two factors: the immediate perception of the fact that there is a “selfsameness and continuity in time” and the fact that other people recognize a person’s sameness and continuity in general (Erikson, 1980, p. 2). Erikson believed that ego identity went beyond merely existing, it was determined by the development of a personal identity and it meshed with the ego identity in several respects. The ego identity was the awareness of the way that others saw the person, and how the person identified with others. In the story, other people do not see Daisy in the same light she sees herself. For example, Mrs. Costello, who is Winterbourne’s aunt, refers to Daisy as a “dreadful girl” (Page by Page Books, 2010, p. 9), and she considers her common, which is not a compliment. Even when it is clear that Winterbourne begins to fancy Daisy, Mrs. Costello discourages the union at every turn. This is because Daisy does not have the highly respected position among society goers as she assumes she does (because of her family ties). They are known to be common folk, because they assume their ways and manners are best. Hers is not a family who would follow the old saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do. ” They would rather put down the cherished customs of others, rather than learn from other cultures and enjoy the differences and diversity of new people in Europe. Winterbourne sees Daisy as inexperienced, and assumes she will learn to be more of a cultured young woman by being in Europe. He assumes wrongly that the culture of the local area will rub off on Daisy, since she is not interested in changing her ways. She is either uncaring, ignorant of European social customs, or plainly does not care to follow them, even at the expense of her own personal reputation. Even as Daisy becomes more intimate in a relationship (albeit a “fling”) with Mr. Giovanelli, Winterbourne is torn as to whether she knows what she is doing and doesn’t care about the result, or is unaware of the picture her scandalous actions are painting for society members who are judging her on her actions. Even at the end of her life, it becomes important to Daisy that she have the high regard of Winterbourne’s affections, but for him that request may have come too late. He lost respect for her and was able to understand her intentions, but was unable to forget the picture of her as just another ignorant American in Europe. Winterbourne knows that Daisy would have wanted his ultimate respect and admiration. In the end, Daisy craved respect from the same people she looked down on, and found that she could not identify with on any level. It is difficult to believe that if Daisy were a real person that she would have been happy with the final result of her life. As a character in the book, she is easy to misunderstand. Daisy acted the way she did in the story because she lacked role models to show her another way to act. Unfortunately, in the story, she became more of the epitome of an ignorant American who saw no value in the culture of European people, but sought to have them look up to her and respect her for being American nevertheless. Reference James, Henry, (1878). Daisy Miller, Retrieved from http://www. pagebypagebooks. com/Henry_James/Daisy_Miller/ Erikson, Erik H. , (1980). Identity and the Life Cycle, Retrieved from http://books. google. com/books? hl=en&lr=&id=lRJRXvx64ZgC&oi=fnd&pg=PA7&dq=erickson%27s+american+identity&ots=SbSP97S0CR&sig=LfX3jeTqt0PoSrk855qfJBu3fKI#v=onepage&q&f=false
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