Daisy Miller: Finding Personal Identity as an Ugly American
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 eing 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. 5). Erikson states that the child will be forced to make selections as to who to identify 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. 22). Erikson believed that ego identity went beyond merely existing, it was 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).