Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Daisy Miller” by Henry James that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Daisy Miller in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Daisy Miller” by Henry James at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Defining Social Class in “Daisy Miller”
Henry James’ short story “Daisy Miller" explores the differences that characterize the social classes. The story poses questions such as: What does it mean to have money, but not class? and How are social relationships negotiated through class? James hints at answers by embodying the characters, especially Daisy, with exaggerated traits that remain believable. Write an essay in which you offer a definition of social class as it might have been explained by James. This definition should be critical. In other words, do not simply state what social class is, but address the implications of the definition. Argue whether social class is “natural" or constructed, and explain the consequences of your position.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Likeability of Daisy Miller
Daisy Miller is paralleled by only one other character in the cultural imagination, and that is Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Daisy, like Holly, is flighty, impetuous, often thoughtless, and painfully naïve despite thinking that she is cultured and experienced. Considering Daisy’s actions and her articulations, is she a likeable character? Write an essay in which you trace the evolution of your own feelings about Daisy over the course of the story. Indicate whether your feelings changed by the end of the story, and explain the process by which your feelings developed. If Daisy is not a likeable character, determine whether she can still be effective for the purposes of the story.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Judging Winterbourne
Winterbourne feels that he did Daisy an injustice, but is his assessment of himself fair? He has tried to be supportive of Daisy even though she hardly deserves such support, and he has acted as an intermediary to smooth over the conflicts and chaos that Daisy leaves in her wake. Winterbourne also attempted to guide Daisy while respecting her autonomy. Considering these observations, and others that you make based on a close reading of Winterbourne’s actions, write an essay in which you argue whether Winterbourne did Daisy an injustice and whether he might have been able to take a different approach with her.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Daisy’s Development
At the beginning of the story, Winterbourne assesses Daisy as a “mixture of innocence and crudity" (37). By the end of the story, it appears that Daisy has developed little, if at all. In fact, Daisy dies, suggesting that she did not even have the potential of developing further. Analyze Daisy’s character development over the course of the story. Write an essay in which you argue the position that she did not develop, and explain her absolute resistance to changing. For this latter element, be sure to address notions about American individualism, as the distinctions between Americans and Europeans are an important element of this story and of Daisy’s character.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Irony in Daisy Miller
One of the charming and effective elements of Daisy Miller is the author’s skillful use of irony. Perhaps the ultimate irony is Daisy’s comment, “Well, I have seen the Colosseum by moonlight!" (76), and the fact that she has not really seen it at all in the sense of appreciating it. This irony is amplified by the fact that Daisy dies afterward. Write an analytic essay in which you examine one or more instances of irony and the way in which it functions to support the development of the theme. The example provided her is the best example of irony, but there are many others that are also appropriate for analysis. Be certain to include a definition that demonstrates your understanding of irony in “Daisy Miller” by Henry James.
This list of important quotations from “Daisy Miller” will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Daisy Miller” by Henry James listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Henry James they are referring to.
[Daisy] “‘ain’t her real name…. Her real name’s Annie P. Miller" (11)
“The only thing I don’t like…is the society. There isn’t any society…I’m very fond of society, and I’ve always had a great deal of it.” (14)
“I have always had…a great deal of gentlemen’s society.” (14)
“They are very common…They are the sort of Americans that one does one’s duty by not – not accepting.” (20)
“She is completely uncultivated…But she is wonderfully pretty, and, in short, she is very nice. To prove that I believe it, I’m going to take her to the Chateau de Chillon.” (21)
“She seemed to him, in all this, an extraordinary mixture of innocence and crudity." (37)
“The society’s extremely select." (48)
“I think you have made a mistake…You should sometimes listen to a gentleman…." (49)
“I, thank goodness, am not a young lady of this country. The young ladies of this country have a dreadfully pokey time of it…. I don’t see why I should change my habits for them." (61)
“Well, I have seen the Colosseum by moonlight!" (76)
Reference: James, Henry. Daisy Miller and Other Stories. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1998