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Daisy Miller’s Limited Third-person Narr…  

2010-04-24 21:29:00|  分类: 作业及论文 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Daisy Miller displays Henry James’s first practice of limited third-person narrative. It shows the story as though the narrator could only describe events that could be perceived by a viewpoint character. It can be used very objectively, showing what is actually happening without the filter of the protagonist's personality, thus allowing the author to reveal information that the protagonist doesn't know or realize. However, some authors use an even narrower and more subjective perspective, as though the viewpoint character were narrating the story; this is dramatically very similar to the first person, allowing in-depth revelation of the protagonist's personality, but uses third-person grammar.

Shen Dan develops and defines the third-person limited narrative in two types. One is that the omniscient narrator reflects one character’s, usually the protagonist’s, inner world only and limits observations of the other characters to superficial other than inner world. That means: the omniscient narrator, being the focalizer to focalize the protagonist’s perception, restricts its selective range to his own introspective. The other is center of consciousness. Here the character’s perception substitutes the narrator’s perception and the focalizer’s perception itself makes the perspective. It is also called the “figural limited perspective” since the character himself has vision limitations (申丹, p521). For the first type, the omniscient narrator forces the reader to believe what he tells about the protagonist. For the second type, the figural perspective tries to record what he perceives, which, again, makes us believe.

Both types are sometimes unreliable since the perception of the protagonist is limited and what the narrator reveals is selective. With the development of the story, however, the reader can filter the true information from the false one. Then the reader may get the title character’s features of Daisy Miller gradually from obscure and misleading to clear and definite.

When he first meets her, Winterbourne functions as a focalizer and Daisy, a focalizee. Because of his third-person limited, he cannot figure out what kind of character she is.

Was she simply a pretty girl from New York State … Or was she also a designing, and audacious, and unscrupulous young person? ...(James, p13)

After she invites Winterbourne to visit Castle of Chillon, he is surprised at her. From the figural perspective, the reader may read into Winterbourne’s inner world of his viewpoint on Daisy without any mistake.

But it seemed that both his audacity and his respect were lost upon Miss Daisy Miller. (Ibid., p15)

Obviously there is an omniscient narrator to focalize Winterbourne and to go into his inner mind. The selection of “seemed” suggests the narrator’s restriction of his own introspection, which leads to uncertainty of Winterbourne’s inner world, blurs his understanding and influences the reader’s judgements of Daisy’s character.

There are numerous examples of such in the text. For example, when he meets Daisy in Rome, he finds her going out alone with her new Italian acquaintance Giovanelli, others are gossiping about her and Mrs. Walker scolds her bitterly, which make him extremely obsessed.

“Nevertheless,” Winterbourne said to himself, “a nice girl ought to know!” And then he came back to the question whether this was in fact a nice girl. (Ibid., p52)

Here, Winterbourne observes the development of the story functioning as a “seeing eye”, through which the narrator perceives, records, filters and reflects all and passes the information to the reader. Therefore the reader may be controlled by this seeing eye and get a very unfavorable impression on Daisy and may be inclined to feel sorry for her for her harsh transgression of the social manners at the expense of Winterbourne’s love for her. Although the information he gets about Daisy is definitely unreliable due to the figural limited perspective, the reader tends to believe what Winterbourne perceives through the narrator’s filtered narrative because of the observational objectivity.

One day, Winterbourne comes across Daisy with Giovanelli in the Colosseum by moonlight. He feels undignified at her shamelessness.

What a clever little reprobate she was, and how smartly she played an injured innocence! (Ibid., p78)

The indefiniteness of Winterbourne’s viewpoint upon Daisy arouses the reader’s suspicion because of the unreliable narration. The reader will have his own logic response to filter the unreliable dig out the meaning of what hides behind the unreliable narration.

If we believe the words are serious on one’s deathbed (which seems to be believed by most of us), we can get a clear view of Daisy’s heart. She asks her mother three times to tell Mr. Winterbourne that “she never was engaged to that handsome Italian” and asks if he “remembered the time [he] went to that castle”. (p81) She is in love with Winterbourne! Giovanelli’s words before her grave can further affirm her character and her love, “the most innocent” “would never have married me [Giovanelli]”. (p82) For the ending, James changed the style into simple conversations of Winterbourne, first with Mrs. Miller, then Giovanelli, and at last Mrs. Costello, which make the story matter-of-factly true since all of them take place in the presence of our “seeing eye”. And the ending, one dead and the other resumed to Geneva, depressed and repentant, becomes more trustworthy and reverberant.

After suspecting so much about his workings of mind upon Daisy, the reader may finally agree that the last point of Daisy’s being “the most innocent” is absolutely correct, which reverts all the prototyped view of Winterbourne and other people. And the authenticity filtered from the unreliability adds the artistic effect to the tragic denouement.

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