The House of Mirth: Breaking free from the Reins of Luxury

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The lives we lead and the type of character we possess are said to be individual decisions. Yet from early stages in our life, our character is shaped by the values, customs and mindsets of those who surround us. The characteristics of this environment affect the way we think and behave ultimately shaping us into a product of the environment we are raised in. Lily Bart, the protagonist in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, is an exceedingly beautiful bachelorette who grows up accustomed to living a life of luxury amongst New York City’s upper-class in the 20th century. When her family goes bankrupt, Lily is left searching for security and stability, both of which, she is taught can be only be attained through a wealthy marriage. Although, Lily is ashamed of her society’s tendencies, she is afraid that the values taught in her upbringing shaped her into “an organism so helpless outside of its narrow range” (Wharton 423). For Lily, it comes down to a choice between two antagonistic forces: the life she desires with a happiness, freedom and love and the life she was cut out to live with wealth, prestige and power. Although, Lily’s upbringing conditioned her to desire wealth and prestige, Lily’s more significant desires happiness, freedom and love ultimately allow her to break free.

The world in which Lily grows up in is one where money is the standard by which everyone is judged. In a setting like this, “money stands for all kinds of things- its purchasing quality isn’t limited to diamonds and motor cars” (Wharton 66). Therefore, even small things such as the way a person dresses or the places someone frequents become of high importance as they are representative of how much money a person possesses. This materialistic tendency ...

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... lavishness now seemed to beckon her with open arms to a life a where she could live expensively. Despite she sadness she was facing Lily knew she could not return to the realm of elites, “it was happiness she still wanted and the glimpse she had caught of it made everything else of no account” (449). At this stage of the novel, the demise of the Lily whose most ardent desire was money, power and prestige was complete. Lily’s loneliness and lack in what Lawrence show Lily that there is a fate that will cause greater pain than lack of wealth. Near her tragic end, Lily finds herself without both of her competing desires. It is then she finally understand that a life without love, happiness and freedom causes greater misfortune that a life without wealth.

Works Cited

Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. Print

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