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Daisy Miller is the protagonist and central character, and the story is named after her. The reader is invited to be both attracted and appalled by her lively, unconventional spirit.
The antagonist for Daisy is the refusal to accept the social standards of the American "society" in Europe, which frowns upon her lively and daring behavior. Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker, in particular, represent that society and its constricting power.
The tragic climax of the story for Daisy is clearly foreshadowed at Mrs. Walker's party. While in Rome, Daisy has flaunted her disregard of social conventions to further and further extremes. When invited to Mrs. Walker's party, she arrives late with Mr. Giovanelli and announces she has been alone with him in the hotel. The hostess is horrified at her behavior.
At the party Daisy finally meets her disgrace when Mrs. Walker refuses to say good night to her and then declares that she will have nothing more to do with Daisy. As a result of the party, Daisy becomes a social outcast, but refuses to change her behavior. She foolishly sits in the Colosseum with Giovanelli at midnight, still defying social standards; this act of defiance is the climax and her final undoing. As a result of her midnight outing, she contracts malaria and dies.
The story ends in tragedy for Daisy Miller. She refuses to behave according to accepted social norms and is, therefore, snubbed by Mrs. Walker. Even after she is rejected by the American "society" in Europe, she continues to act improperly, sitting in the Colosseum at midnight with Giovanelli. This foolish act causes her to contract malaria and die.
SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Winterbourne, a young American gentleman, meets his aunt in Vevey, Switzerland, a popular summer holiday destination for Americans. While staying there, he meets the bizarre Miller family, including the mother, daughter, and son. Winterbourne is enchanted by Daisy, the beautiful, spontaneous and fun daughter who refuses to follow the usual rules of social propriety. He is perplexed by Mrs. Miller who does not act like the usual concerned, strict or manipulative mother; in fact, she is quite the opposite. Winterbourne's aunt, Mrs. Costello, entirely disapproves of the Millers and their strange ways.
Winterbourne is surprised that Daisy will carry on a conversation with him, a total stranger. He is even more surprised when she accepts his invitation to tour a nearby castle, and is totally shocked when her mother agrees to let her go. While together at the castle, Daisy openly flirts with Winterbourne and he realizes that her social behavior is indiscreet. Winterbourne is convinced, however, that Daisy acts in innocence and is charmed by her unpredictable traits. His aunt does not feel the same way about Daisy and refuses to meet her, believing her to be common.
When Winterbourne announces he must leave Vevey, Daisy makes him promise to come and see her in Rome during the winter. When he arrives in Rome, he hears wild tales about Daisy going out with strangers and being seen in unacceptable places. Her behavior is particularly improper with a handsome and rather questionable Italian by the name of Giovanelli. Mrs. Walker tries to tell Daisy how to behave socially, but Daisy ignores her warnings. When she arrives late with Mr. Giovanelli at Mrs. Walker's party, she totally upsets the hostess, who later refuses to tell her goodnight.
After the party, Daisy is virtually ostracized from the American "society" to which she really wished to belong. Daisy, quite in character, tosses her head and pretends she doesn't care, while continuing to act more and more recklessly. She halfway claims an engagement with Giovanelli and is found with him one midnight at the Colosseum by Winterbourne. Until this encounter, Winterbourne has defended Daisy and claimed she has acted in innocence. Now, Winterbourne is appalled, not only by her social impropriety, but also by her stupidity in risking illness from the unhealthy night air. He directs them to leave, while Daisy protests. As a result of her foolish ways, she contracts malaria.
While ill, Daisy sends a message to Winterbourne admitting that she has not been engaged to Giovanelli. Winterbourne sees this denial as rather superfluous, since Daisy is obviously near death. At her funeral, Winterbourne, standing next to Giovanelli, blames him for not taking better care of the innocent Daisy. Giovanelli simply slips away. The following year at Vevey, Mrs. Costello and Winterbourne talk of Daisy; she even mentions the possibility that Daisy had held an affection for Winterbourne. For the most part, however, Daisy remained a largely misunderstood and tragic innocent, wrongly judged by the American "society" in Europe.