Shattering the Glass House of Mirth

Powerful Essays
Shattering the Glass House

"where ignorance is bliss, / 'Tis folly to be wise." - Thomas Gray

The title of Edith Wharton's novel The House of Mirth waxes poetic irony in the case of the old money society of turn-of-the-century New York. The individual as part of the collective of society which seeks to oppress individuality is representative of the "house" in the novel's title. To remain ignorant and play by the "rules," therein lies the "mirth." Clearly, the victimization of the story's heroine, Lily Bart, by the elite social "set" she associates herself with illustrates Wharton's disdain for the rigidity of this society against the individual. Lily is, at first, an example of the collective society she is a product of; however, as she finds herself being victimized for embracing individuality, a metamorphosis of her character takes place through an internal struggle over the faults of her external world, leading to her discovery of the truth and the loss of her innocence.

Common associations with the word "innocence" are freedom from legal guilt, or someone childlike. Obviously, Lily is not a child, and the law in this country states that all individuals are innocent until proven guilty; unfortunately, society believes exactly the opposite, and treats suspected individuals accordingly. Even when one is brought to trial, it is hardly ever a fair court mainly due to preconceptions and prejudices. Lily Bart is constantly on trial and defenseless against her peers, however unaware of it she may be at times. It is difficult to believe that a person who has been exposed to the inner-workings of a society such as the one she was raised in can be completely unaware of the guileful ways of her peers, yet she is. It was E...

... middle of paper ... without all of that. Poverty is repulsive to that society and overshadows her beauty, the one thing she comes to depend upon as her saving grace. Faced with financial destitution, she is forced to attempt to reconcile with herself; with the values that have been instilled in her since childhood and with her desire for individual freedom. Her desire for individuality is strong and causes internal conflicts, as well as goes against the group mentality of the society she is a part of, leading to external consequences. The reasons for Lily's death are not fully clear, and it remains to be seen whether the overdose was intentional or an accident. Why she died is not as important as is Wharton's message to society from those who attempt to thwart its power: "You win."

Works Cited:

Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003.
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