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Conventionality vs Instinct in Daisy Miller and The Awakening

Henry James's Daisy Miller and Kate Chopin's The Awakening were first published twenty-one years apart, the former in 1878 and the latter in 1899. Despite the gap of more than two decades, however, the two works evince a similarity of thought and intent that is immediately evident in their main themes. Both works display characters whose lives have been governed almost solely by the conventions of their respective societies. Furthermore, both works also attempt to demonstrate to the reader what happens when these conventions are challenged by individual instincts, which more often than not are in direct contradiction to the dictates of convention.The theme of conventionality versus instinct predominates both works. In Daisy Miller the theme is embodied in the character of Frederick Winterbourne, an ex-patriot American living in Europe. The Awakening's Edna Pontellier serves as the means through which Kate Chopin examines her version of this theme. Both Winterbourne and Edna are trapped in conventional worlds, and both are affected by a deep, instinctive need to break free of the bonds that restrain them so absolutely.The portrayal of this theme, however, is accomplished in different ways by Henry James and Kate Chopin. The main reason for this is that although the theme is common to both works, the protagonists' experience of it are not. Conventionality has entrapped them in different ways, and their instinctive reactions arise out of differing circumstances.Frederick Winterbourne, for example, comes to a realization of his internal struggle between conventionality and instinct not in and of himself, but because of Miss Daisy Miller. Winterbourne meets the young Miss Miller in Vevay, Switzerland, while visiting his aunt, Mrs. Costello. He realizes immediately that Daisy is not a conventional person, whether deliberately or through ignorance of European conventions.Winterbourne and Daisy, in fact, represent two vastly different ways of...

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