Female Characters In The Symbols Of Wharton's Social Darwinism

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In order to establish her novel in Darwinian terms, Wharton dehumanizes her characters to portray them as creatures that rely on money for survival. Specifically, this applies to the symbolic biome of the upper class. While Selden, a friend and spectator of the wealthy, talks with Lily he comments, “And so it is with [the] rich people-they may not be thinking of money but they’re breathing it all the while: take them into another element and see how they squirm and gasp” (Wharton 75). Wharton’s diction characterizes the wealthy as animals, rather than people, so she can relate the classes to biomes, or environments that are based on wealth. Instead of climate changing between the different environments, it is one 's income changing between…show more content…
Specific characters in which their names act as their genes are Bertha and Lily. Very few female characters’ names are not in the diminutive, and one is Bertha, a preeminent figure in the upper class. When Lily is about to reveal Bertha’s affair her “words died under the impenetrable insolence of Bertha’s smile…then without a word, she rose and went down to her cabin” (Wharton 221). Bertha’s superiority is evident in Wharton’s’ diction and Lily’s symbolic positioning. Because Lily’s words die under Bertha and she goes downstairs, or below Bertha, it signifies her subservience. Lily’s name is even in the diminutive, since it ends in “y”, which further represents her subordination. This enables Wharton to use Bertha’s name to foreshadow, or predestine, her eventual dominance over Lily. Like Bertha, Lily’s name denotes her fate, particularly her alienation. Her name represents nature, but, since a flower cannot survive in this metropolitan environment, it symbolizes why Lily cannot conform and will not prosper. A lily further allows Wharton to comment on Lily’s personality. If she were to succumb to the values of her class she would “…sacrifice [the] fineness of spirit that sets her apart” (Barnett). This fineness relates to Lily’s innate morality, such as a lily’s white coloring. Since she is characterized as virtuous, she will fail…show more content…
When Nettie first introduces her newborn child to Lily, she tells her “Marry Anto’nette-that’s what we call her: after the French queen in the play” (Wharton 334). The significance of the baby’s name is because it is an allusion to Marie Antoinette. Her lavish lifestyle is similar to the aristocrats of New York, but she was soon murdered during the French Revolution. Her murder represents an imminent downfall, as Lily experienced. However, Wharton changes the spelling in order to signify that Marry will not belong among the wealthy, such as Lily did not. Therefore, Wharton creates a connection between Lily and Marry, because both will obtain wealth, but diverge from society causing their decline and untimely death. When Lily dies, Wharton continues to highlight Lily’s connection to Marry. After she has overdosed, Lily begins to hallucinate that she is holding Marry, in which “…the baby more likely symbolizes [Lily’s] desire to born again” (Dixon). From this wish, Wharton is able to symbolize that Marry will embody Lily, and then is doomed. But Marry is a child, who cannot control her life, and according to Social Darwinism, is forced to endure her unsuccessful future. By making Marry a futile and naive baby, Wharton employs a sense of pathos, so she can censure Social Darwinism for harming a child and

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