Gender Roles in Realism and Modernism

In American literature, Realism is different from Modernism by various different ways. Starting in late 19th Century, Realism is meant to depict real life and nature by accurately representing the characters without any idealization, which was also applied to the descriptions of gender roles. “Daisy Miller” by Henry James, is a presentation of Realism. Furthermore, in Realism, the writers emphasize on the detachment and objectivity of the narrator. Modernism, dominating in American literature during 1920s to 1940s, brought upon the changes to the descriptions of the gender roles. In Modernism, the characteristics of the women’s roles are affected by the changes in the society. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Winter Dreams”, the theme was focused on the interplay of the gender roles. The ways that the characters in these two stories are presented are reflective of differences in late 19th century realism and early 20th century modernism.

In the story “Daisy Miller”by Henry James,When Winterbourne is vacationing from his studies in Switzerland, he meets Daisy through her younger brother’s introduction. He is attracted by Daisy at first sight yet he is quite confused by her manners too. And he decides that Daisy is nothing more than a young American flirt. However, in spite of the prejudices from his snobbish aunt Mrs.Costello and the negation from his own mind which is affected by European attitude, he still pursues Daisy. In Rome, Winterbourne and Daisy meet the second time unexpectedly. When Daisy faces the disapprobation from other Americans in Rome, Winterbourne tries to save her reputation. But Daisy’s refusal to his attempt upsets him deeply.One night when he sees Daisy is with the Italian man Giovanelli in the center of Coloseum, he determines at that moment that Daisy is too common for him to love. Even though he warns Daisy that she should be careful of the danger of the “Roman Fever”, she protests contemptuously that she doesn’t even care about it. At last, she dies a few days later.

Nevertheless, “Winter Dreams” by F. scott Fitzgerald, which is a representative work of Modernism, tells a story with quite similar plots. Dexter Green is from middle class and works as a golf caddy at a Golf Club in Black Bear Lake, Minnesota, where the rich people from higher class spend their leisure time and also where the author himself lived for a time. At the club, Dexter meets Judy Jones, whose father is his boss. Since he loathes the feeling inferior to those rich people in the club for whom he has to work obediently, he quits his job one day by the excuse that he is too old to work. After college, Dexter successfully finds his work in a partnership in a laundry business. And he meets Judy Jones second time when he is invited to play golf with those for whom once he candied. Judy appears amazingly gorgeous and soon their affair begins, yet now for long Dexter only finds he is nothing special for her among her dozens of suitors. He disppointedly leaves Judy and later becomes engaged to Irene Scheerer. However, when he encounters Judy again, his heart is captured while she asks him to marry her. Breaking off his engagement with Irene, Dexter finds himself to be dropped again by Judy a month later. With a broken heart, he joins the army to fight in World War I and later appears as single, successful business man in New York. While Dexter hears from a client who acquaintances Judy Jones that she suffers from her husband’s alcoholism and she has ‘faded’, he breaks, realizing his destroyed “winter dreams” and his own disillusion.

The reason to put these two stories which are reflective contrast of different literary trends in comparison is because of their similarities. Furthermore, since F. Scott Fitzgerald admired Henry James very much, “Winter Dreams” in a sense might be regarded another Version of “Daisy Miller” in Modernism. In another word,

F. Scott Fitzgerald might write “Winter Dreams” with a particular purpose that the readers would appreciate “Daisy Miller” from the side of Modernism.

 Gender Roles—objectification & idealization

The women characters, Daisy Miller and Judy Jones, are both beautiful, wealthy and confident yet both end with the tragic fate. There is no direct description about them, and they are both seen through from the eyes of the male characters, Winterbouner and Dexter, who are their suitors. Daisy Miller is described as ‘strikingly, admirably pretty’, and Judy Jones is seen as ‘arrestingly beautiful’. They both attract their suitors by their appearance. But their beauty are appreciated by different ways.

In “Daisy Miller”, When Winterbourne meets Daisy, she ‘was dressed in white muslin, with a hundred frills and flounces, and knots of pale-colored ribbon…’ and ‘she balanced in her hand a large parasol, with a deep border of embroidery…’. Yet Daisy is studied by Winterbourne with irrespectful attitude. He objectifies Daisy by his ‘relish for feminine beauty’. He examines her ‘complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth’ and he is quite addicted to ‘observing and analyzing it’. Daisy’s image is confined in his thoughts which are restricted by his own “moral standards” which belong to old European generations, since he thinks Daisy is possibly a ‘coquette’ and he even expects to seek the ‘mockery or irony’ from her eyes. For Winterbourne, Daisy is a doll or should become a doll which is destined to lose all her free-spirits and characters under the restrictions of old European manners. On one side, Winterbouner judges her behaviors and decides she is too common; on the other side, he still pursues Daisy and envies other men who are close with Daisy. This contradiction shows the psychological realism in Henry James’s story.

In contrast, Dexter appreciates Judy Jones with admiration. ‘He looks at her closely…This color and the mobility of her mouth gave a continual impression of flux, of intense life, of passionate vitality—balanced only partially by the sad luxury of her eyes.’ Her beauty is depicted by the narrator instead of Dexter. ‘There was a general ungodliness in the way her lips twisted down at the corners when she smiled and in the—Heaven help us!—in the almost passionate quality of her eyes. Vitality is born in such women.’ When Dexter pursues Judy Jones, he idealizes her as his dream. She stands for beauty, youth, confidence, wealth and the exclusive society. All these characteristics are what form an American dream in the Jazz Age and what every man with ambitions wishes to have. Dexter is not only obsessed with ‘arrestingly beautiful’ Judy, but also with his idealism of ‘winter dreams’. Even though at last he is dropped by Judy and he experiences a hard time, but his idealization still exists with his life, or actually motivates his life when Judy becomes an unfulfilled dream. Just as in the story it says, ‘He wanted not association with glittering things and glittering people—he wanted the glittering things themselves.’ And for him, Judy Jones is the ‘glittering things’ he aspires and struggles for in his life.

These two women characters meet different fate at the end of the stories. Daisy Miller catches the “Roman fever” and dies, while Judy Jones is heard beaten by her alcoholic husband and fades. Even though their fates are different, they both end tragically, from which the differences between Realism and Modernism are reflected for readers.

There is a saying in literature that nothing is more beautiful than a young, beautiful woman’s death, which is applied in the story “Daisy Miller”. Her death is because of the “Roman fever”, which was indeed happened in Italy and caused many people’s death. However, her death is not irrelevant to do with Winterbouner. And to a great extent, Winterbouner causes Daisy’s death by his coldness, stereotype for Daisy, misunderstanding and conventional, stiff values inhabited from old European generations. He treats Daisy like a doll and objectifies her by his disrespectful studying, which makes himself an unpleasant character. Daisy becomes an object to be investigated rather than a person to be accepted as a friend or a kind, beautiful young lady to be admired. And Winterbouner is the one who investigates this “object”. His stiffness conflicts with Daisy’s free-spirited values. Daisy’s death causes readers’ compassion. From the development of the story, she is seen to be tore piece by piece. She frankly expresses her disappointment for the cancellation of the meeting with Winterbouner’s aunt Mrs. Costello. She wishes to have Mrs. Costello’s acquaintance because she appreciates that Mrs. Costello belongs to exclusive aristocratic class, yet she only finds Winterbouner looks for excuses for his aunt’s refusal because of her commonness. Even though it looks like it is Mrs. Costello who refuses Daisy, Winterbouner is the one who shows his contempt and prejudices to Daisy when he introduces her to his aunt. And later in the story, she is disapproved by Winterbouner and Mrs. Walker because she is seen ‘walking some quarter of an hour, attended by her two cavaliers’. Obviously, Winterbouner feels shameful about Daisy’s “audacity ad innocence”. And when he meets Daisy and Giovanelli together, he warns her about the ‘Roman fever’, yet Daisy behaves more rebellious. Her reaction is probably because she is offended by his coldness, stiffness and disrespectful manners, and her death is more like a silent protest to the old, conventional values which demand women to be “lady-like”. Daisy dies tragically, and it seems like she protects her own values through the proof of death.

Different from the death of Daisy, Judy Jones doesn’t die in the story “Winter Dreams”. Judy, who is presented beautiful, proud, wealthy and pursued by a dozen of suitors, fades in the end. She loses all of the former characteristics. Her beauty fades, her confidence is beat by her husband’s alcoholism and cruel treat and she is no longer admired and appreciated by others, not even paid any attention. Even though her fate is foreshadowed in the previous descriptions, such as the denotation of the “winter dreams”, the ending is still unexpected. For Dexter, Judy’s fading breaks him down, because she stands for everything Dexter is struggling for during all his life. Finding that his ideal is actually hollow, he realizes that his wakes up from his “winter dreams” and the old-time will never come back again. From this point, the characteristics of Modernism are reflected. Dexter is curious to know how Judy’s life is, not only because he still has affection to her, but also because she stands for his unfulfilled dream. And he breaks when he hears that Judy fades, not because he feels sorry nor holds any compassion for her life, but because his “dreams” are broken by the harsh reality which are once idealized so beautiful. Disillusion in the story shows the strong characters of modernism.

Tragically, even though Judy Jones is not objectified by Dexter in the way as Daisy is objectified by Winterbouner, Dexter’s idealization for Judy is another form of “objectification” in a new age of society. It is not hard to imagine that there are many other men idealizing Judy as their “dreams”. It prevails that women are still regarded as objects in modernism, in a more subtle way or “civilized” way. Judy Jones is the “glittering things” for Dexter, and she can be “glittering things” for other men, which is probably the main reason that causes her tragic ending. In the story, she shows her fear of being relished and idealized, which explains why she drops Dexter. Judy doesn’t want anyone lies for her. Maybe she feels that she will fall off from the peak of idealization someday when her beauty fades with age, so instead of choosing Dexter, she would rather live with a man, maybe like her husband, treating her as a woman, not as a “dream”, since dream never lasts long.


No matter Daisy or Judy, they both have to face isolation from their society. Daisy’s isolation is caused by the gap of misunderstanding between the two generations represented each by Daisy and Mrs. Costello. Her manners show her values. She goes out with men in public, which is regarded as indecent, because in her mind there is no such rule that women should stay inside the house and not be seen to have many male friends. Daisy’s friendliness is interpreted as frivolous, and her innocence is misunderstood as flirting. In such an environment where people stick with the conventional moral standards, there is no way for Daisy to feel accepted. She cannot turn help to anyone and she is not willing to be helped out of her own values, which explains why she refuses Mrs. Walker to get on the carriage when she is seen walking in public accompanied by other men. This shows the tragic reality for women to live with, especially those who are free-spirited. In one particular part, the cruel situation of Daisy’s isolation is prevailed. When Daisy meets Mrs. Walker after the “carriage incident”, Mrs. Walker ‘turned her back straight upon Miss Miller and left her to depart with what grace she might.’ Yet at the moment, Daisy realizes how desperate her situation is, she ‘turned very pale and looked at her mother, but Mrs. Miller was humbly unconscious of any violation of the usual social forms’.  ‘Winterbouner was standing near the door; he saw it all’, but he offers no support or help.

Judy, on the other hand, is like a canary prisoned in a beautiful cage. She is admired, pursued, and idealized, yet she can’t feel any happiness. In the story, the readers never know about Judy’s thoughts, but only can try to know her from Dexter’s points of view. Maybe the reason she always changes from one man to the other man is because she is trying to find someone who really respects her and treats her equally. No one can live only in other’s dream. Judy’s isolation is caused by another form of misunderstanding. In this age, a woman’s situation is no better than the age of Daisy Miller. Judy is tragically regarded as a substitute of one’s dream and gets no sympathy when she “fades”. Just like in the story Judy says, “ I’m more beautiful than anybody else, why can’t I be happy?” For this question, Dexter can never give her an answer, because it is just those like him, who idealize her as their dreams yet treat her as a substitute, that cause her loneliness.

Symbolism & Aestheticism

In the story “Daisy Miller”, the author used symbolism to imply the characteristics and ending of the story. Daisy and Winterbouner’s names are symbolic. “Daisy” is a flower blossoming in spring and dies in winter. This kind of flower stands for beauty, youth, and aliveness, which matches with Daisy’s characteristics. And “winter” represents coldness, stiffness and death. That a beautiful flower dies in winter also implies in the environment where people hold conventional moral standards and narrow-minded values, a free-spirited girl from new generation can barely survive.

Furthermore, the original title “Daisy Miller—A Study” is symbolic. “A study” refers to a study of rich Americans in Europe, a study of contrasting personalities, a study of the narrow-mindedness of Americans and Europeans, a study of false judgments, a study of how social conventions can inhibit personal friendship.

In “Winter Dreams”, the descriptions about Judy Jones are reflective Aestheticism. Aestheticism is a literary movement which aims to pursue “art for art’s sake” and was represented by Oscar Wilde. In the story, Judy is described as the “butterfly’s wings.” From the interpretation of the butterfly’s wings, Judy and the “glittering things” she represents, all stand for delicate and ephemeral beauty. The beauty existing at the moment is everlasting, yet it cannot be held for long. When Judy fades, the dream in the past will never come back again, which causes the sense of nostalgia in the modernism.


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