Thursday, May 16, 2013

The House of Mirth: What does Lily Bart want?


Logic Stage: What does the main character want?  What is standing in her way?  What strategy does she pursue in order to overcome this block?


Lily has been raised to believe that she must avoid a poor, dingy life, and that the only way she can avoid that kind of life is to marry a wealthy man within high society so that she may be part of high society, too.  Apparently, Lily thinks that is her calling in life. 

Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart
The reader certainly hears this enough to believe that it must be true, but Lily’s behavior or actions demonstrate the opposite: Lily is repulsed by the actions of the people in high society.  Even more so, she is not like them, and she does not play their games.

It would not be strange to say that Lily does not want that life at all; even Lawrence told her that she really hates the very things that she claims to desire.  She knows it is true, and that is why she turned down opportunities that would have given her exactly what we thought she wanted. 

Instead, what she really wants is her will to make her own free choices; but she continues to find that, given her gender, time period she is living in, and lack of finances - all of which are obstacles - she cannot have that freedom and independence without depending on a man, who by the way has a lot more choices, freedom, and fewer limitations than women of her time. 

Certainly, Lily may choose to work “like a pig” for a living, but she would probably never reach the luxury of high society on her own.  That’s where a husband would come in - a wealthy one; but he would be a total bore, probably.  She cannot win. 

And that brings us to the final question: what does she do to overcome her block?  Well, she never does overcome her obstacles because she cannot change society, at least on her own, and she is not about to make any sacrifices.  Wharton is so good at presenting this tragic condition that for a moment I actually thought, “There is nothing more for her to do.  She has no recourse.  Everything is working against her.  Her next option is to check into a homeless shelter and be dependent on others to care for her daily needs because she cannot help herself.”  But I know it is not true.  There was hope, but she did not take my advice; and so ends her dilemma.  

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