Perceptions Abroad

I’ve been thinking a lot about the abroad experience lately, and learning about the Development of Intercultural Sensitivity has really impacted the way I view my situation. It is comforting to have a chart to make sense of my feelings and insure me I’m not the only one who has been there before.


By analyzing Daisy Miller and Italian Journey, I found comfort in the fact that fictional and non-fictional characters both have such realistic experiences with their new cultures. Without further ado, here is my full analysis:

The Intercultural Development Model—a model typically shown with six stages that helps us understand how people experience/respond to differences from an intercultural perspective—has proven useful when reading Daisy Miller (Henry James, 1878) and Italian Journey (J. W. Goethe, 1786). On one hand, we have Daisy: an American traveling abroad who pays no attention to the rules of a new country. On the other, Goethe is traveling to Italy for the exact opposite reason: he wants to learn about the world and himself. With the Intercultural Development Model, it becomes easier to place characters on opposing sides of the spectrum. However, the model does not need to be used to pin characters against one another. It can instead provide a way to see characters in multiple stages of adaptation as they experience new social norms and expectations. To look at this further, I will analyze Daisy’s denial of Italian culture as well as Goethe’s experience of reversal in Italian Journey. By doing this, we will be able to approach reading with a new light and know better how to apply the Intercultural Development Model to other situations.

Daisy, our starlet, enters the life of a man named Winterbourne early in the novel. He notices her free-spirited attitude and is taken with her; she stands out compared to the Italians he is accustomed to, and Daisy appears indifferent to the changes around her. We can then turn to the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (or the DMIS) to make sense of how her behavior reflects what she’s feeling in light of a new culture. Daisy is likely in denial: the stage where one’s first experience is to not experience the cultural differences. Daisy wants to experience the excitement of a new culture without really understanding what she is experiencing. Daisy does not notice the class structure and social norms because she assumes everyone is the same. As pointed out by Mrs. Castillo: “[Daisy Miller’s family is] very common. They’re the sort of Americans that one does one’s duty by not—not accepting” (13) that is not the case; not everyone is the same, especially not in Italian society. Daisy is an outsider and does not notice when people try to help her adjust to society and, as a consequence, Daisy continues to do what she desires. Most perceive her as improper and disgraceful—other Americans even distance themselves from her, which could lead us to wonder what the American identity is, if it is not a young woman such as Daisy who is so full of freedom. It is possible that America, a country that is a melting pot, does not have a set identity. Perhaps they borrow from other countries in more ways than they realize, and do not have a strong enough culture to claim as their own. Winterbourne, on the other hand, sees her as innocence and exciting rather than disgraceful: “[Daisy] continued to present herself as an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence” (37). Unfortunately, whether readers look at it as innocence, ignorance, or promiscuity, her actions in Italy lead to her eventual death.

From this, readers may wonder what had a hand in Daisy’s demise and, conversely, what changed Goethe during his travels. Daisy’s innocence, or recklessness, brought her downfall. If she were not in Italy acting as if she were in America, things may not have had such an outcome. Therefore, one may say that Italy has killed her. In the case of J.W. Goethe, Italy does just what it is intended to do. Coming from the time of the Grand Tour where everyone traveled as young men, he went abroad intending to learn about himself and a new culture. Already, he moved past the denial stage that ensnared Daisy. While Daisy had apparently done all the growing she intended to, Goethe wanted to develop himself as a man. From the start, Goethe is carefully taking in the things around him. For example, when he describes simple things such as “The gallery is too small […] But this must be forgiven for the sake of the fine museum which has been established under this colonnade” (54). I find him to be a credible narrator because he thinks before simply accepting things. As his journey progresses, it becomes more evident that he is in reversal: the stage where one considers the adopted culture superior to their original cultural. He sees the differences and prefers what he is witnessing in Italy to his own German culture. Goethe comments, “My purpose in making this wonderful journey is not to delude myself but to discover myself in the objects I see” (57). He is letting Italy show him what it has to offer instead of judging it with preconceived ideas; he actually becomes biased toward Italy instead of against it. In this way, he moves from thinking and analyzing to being further open-minded. “If I may say so, as soon as one sees with one’s open eyes the whole which one had hitherto only known in fragments and chaotically, a new life begins” (129). Italy changed Goethe. He feels enlightened by everything around him, from the way they keep time to the unfamiliar-yet-familiar objects around him.

I believe it is worth noting that Goethe’s travelogue is an account of his real travels. In the case of Daisy, she’s a fictional character. The author, James, was born after the Grand Tour in a time of Transatlanticism. James likes to focus on young women abroad and, while the DMIS can be applied to the fictional character of Daisy, it is not factual. The experiences of Goethe are authentic and not manipulated by plot or author conventions to make the story interesting. Goethe’s experience is a true reaction while Daisy’s is simply possible. No matter how strong of a writer, James cannot turn into a young woman and know exactly what someone like Daisy would think or say. He can merely speculate and create an interesting story.

Despite these stark contrasts, similarities can be draw between Daisy and Goethe. They travel for different reasons, but both get what they want from the experience. Daisy wants to be free and have fun while Goethe wants to discover himself in a new place. They must look at themselves and the relationship between their identities and environment. James, in particular, has a great interest in what happens to people when they physically move to a new country; he shows this through his character of Daisy. Goethe is interested in the same thing, but for himself. Italy serves as a character, moving the plot along as Goethe discovers Italy and Daisy ignores it. When faced with these works, the DMIS gives us a chance to look into two different character’s viewpoints and their adjustments during travel. Using the same scale as a method of measure insures we approach the way we view them equally.

All that said, readers may have questions. Was Daisy just not given enough time to mature? Travel is intended to grow a person. Leaving America should have, in theory, made her better. This brings us back to what it means to be an American. The other characters in the book do not want to be anything like the Miller family. Readers, such as myself, may believe that Daisy resembles America with her free spirit and modernity. However, she also contrasts it because America, at that time, is considered masculine and hard working. She is more like old Italy where people were playful and focused on leisure. Yet, she does not fit in there because she does not follow the rules of Italian society. Another question we may face: did Goethe’s life-changing trip stick with him or did its mark eventually fade away? As far as his journey goes, our analysis ends at the end of his text. We know that Italy had a great impact on Goethe, and we can hope he carried that with him the rest of his life.

When analyzing the texts of Daisy Miller and Italian Journey, the DMIS is a great tool. It allows us to see travelers in a fresh way and compare them on the same scale. It is apparent that when traveling abroad, different experiences occur for different personalities. This is based on people’s perceptions of their situations and what they want to get from their experience. Daisy Miller’s ignorance to the world around her eventually caused her demise, but she did enjoy her life while it lasted, no matter what people thought of her. I like to think that Daisy saw the good in people and denied the cultural differences. Goethe looked at Italy squarely. He took in everything he could; he measured what he saw in Italy to what he knew from Germany and accepted the Italian culture, even preferred it. In these ways, the DMIS provides a reliable way to analyze literature and the adjustments fictional and non-fictional characters abroad.


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