House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton and Call it Sleep, by Henry Roth

House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton and Call it Sleep, by Henry Roth

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Climbing up the Social Scale

The time and way people are brought up in society makes a huge difference on how they will climb up the social scale in life. In the classic novel House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton and Call it Sleep, by Henry Roth the main characters experience totally different upbringings into society. While Lily Bart is brought up into a high class society, David is born into an immigrant family in a part of the city, which has similar people as his own country. The two characters in the novels both have different and some similar views on how to climb up on the social scale. Although they would give different advice to each other on how to climb the social scale, and have different views on life, one thing that would be common would be to have money.
In the novel The House of Mirth, Lily Bart is introduced to us as a rich, single lady in the 1900's. She is brought up into an upper class society, where the society is based on people that have "old money". In her society, people who want to climb the social scale, must have money, and must have power. If ever Lily were to talk to David from Call it Sleep, her views on climbing the social scale would completely be different than David's. Since Lily is in a totally different environment than that of David, and since she is an adult, her views are about how to survive in her upper class world. In order to survive in Lily's world one must have money, not simply be rich but one must have a certain kind of money. They have to have inherited money, called "old money", this is the first step to survive in Lily's community. In the book, we see that although Mr. Rosedale is a very wealthy man, he is outside the social circle because he does not have old money. He has new money, which shows that he is not part of a great, rich family. The second step to climb up in the social scale is to use other people for one's benefit. For a woman to climb up in this society, Lily says one must marry not for love but for money. If one marries into a wealthy family, than her status is automatically heightened to that level. A lady should marry a wealthy man, and a man must marry a beautiful lady to survive in the society.

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The author writes, "If she did not marry Percy Gryce, the day might come when she would have to be civil to such men as Rosedale" (64). This quotation states how it is very important for Lily to marry Percy, so her status would go up in the society. Also she hints that if she doesn't marry him, she will have to settle with people like Rosedale who are not part of the social circle. Thirdly one must use, and dispose other people so they can rise up the social scale. Unfortunately Lily was used several times by other people and slowly by the end of the book; she completely fell down the social scale. For example Bertha Dorset uses Lily on the cruise and accusses her of cheating with her husband, and so Lily falls even further down the social scale, while Bertha goes higher and higher. While having a conversation with Ms.Fisher, Lily realizes that the only way she can climb up the social scale is to get back at Bertha by marrying his husband. Ms.Fisher says, "The only thing to save you from Bertha is to marry somebody else" (275). This quotation shows how Lily must marry someone with high status, so she can not only get back at Bertha but also improve her social status. Basically to gain status, and survive in Lily's world one must have money and power.
However, in the book Call it Sleep, David has a different view on surviving in the world. Although he is only seven in the book, David understands everything that is happening around him, and learns how to survive in his world. Unlike Lily's rich, upper class society, David comes from an immigrant family, who lives with people who are similar in ethnicity. In David's eyes the key to surviving in the world is to have a steady job, one must conform to American society, and one should never be scared of anything. From the beginning of the book we see that David's dad has problems with getting a job, he gets fired from almost every job that he has. In turn the dad is always mad, and has a lot of anxiety issues, which always brings hostility into the house. One needs money to survive in any community, and since the dad always gets fired from his jobs he's in a sense, always on the edge of a cliff. We see the happiness in the father when he realizes that he will no longer have to go searching for jobs, when he gets a job for Dolman's Press. He writes, "I told you this cursed wondering from job to job will end… now time may bring something- who knows"(32). This quotation shows how a job is very important for a person not only to survive but to have some sort of happiness in a household. Another advice that David would give Lily would be that immigrants should conform to American society so they can rise on the social scale. Again we see that the dad desperately tries to act American, but always fails. Luter however is a perfect example of an immigrant with higher status, and a person who conforms to American society. In the scene where Luter is invited for dinner to David's house, we see that he is in a higher social status, and is also respected by the Dad. Lastly David would tell Lily that one should never be scared. In the book David is scared of many things, he fears upsetting his parents, he's afraid of the dark, and he's afraid to be free, do what other kids in the neighborhood do. His fear of things hinders his growth of becoming a "man" like his father, and also he is made fun of by the kids in his community. David is a mamma's boy. He soon learns that being less fearful gives him more strength and helps him grow into a man. After the incident where he got into a fight with Yussie, his mom asks if he wanted to be carried, David says, "'No, I can walk, Mama!' ... the magic in the word seemed inexhaustible, gave him new strength" (107). This quotation shows how, for the first time in his life he is not pampered and is not afraid to be on his own. For the first time it gives him confidence and strength in order to survive in this harsh world of his. David's views on surviving in the world depend on getting a good job, conforming to the outside community, and to not be scared of anything.
If ever Lily and David were to have a conversation of how to survive in there society, they would give different advice to each other. David would say that one would need to get a steady job, would have to conform to society, and most of all to be fearless. On the other hand Lily would say that one must have money, power, and must use other people to rise on the social scale. Although most of the advice given would be different, there is one point that is shared between both people; it is that one must have money. Money would instantly give someone a head start in surviving in either world. Money is the stepping stone to climb the social scale.
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