Saturday, May 18, 2013

The House of Mirth: What is Edith Wharton's argument?


Rhetoric Stage:  What is the author's argument?  Do you agree?

            There are several arguments that Edith Wharton presents in The House of Mirth.  One of them is gender related.  Wharton makes the case, quite successfully, that women do not have the same choices or opportunities as men do, even men in similar financial or social situations.  Women either get married to save themselves from utter poverty, dire straits, or absolute hopelessness, or they can take a labor job and live “dingy lives” like “pigs.”  If they play their cards right, they can catch a wealthy husband and secure themselves a place in high society.  Men do not have to worry about living dingy lives; no one will judge them.  They can labor all they want, and it won’t destroy them.  And they don’t have to marry high up or at all to reap the pleasure of high society, like Lawrence. 

            Money also is an issue.  Money is power, and the more you have, the more it will protect you.  You can buy friends and social connections, and no one cares how horrible you are.  Everyone wants to be your ally.  For example, everyone knew how Bertha spread rumors and lies about Lily and even wished someone else would bring her down, but no one was willing to confront her or reject her because her association carried much weight.  Lily understood that even if she used the love letters to manipulate Bertha, she would still lose because of Bertha’s power and support system which guarded her.  Oh, how true this is!

Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart
            Another issue is high society itself.  Why be genuine and honorable and truthful?  That is not why people are friends.  They all live by this hypocritical set of rules: who can borrow money from whom, who can be seen with this one or left alone with that one.  Does anyone in high society value the marriage covenant?   It is fashionable and an expectation to divorce at some point and remarry someone else’s husband.  Marriage is not for love but rather a business connection.  It has to personally benefit the individual.  Love is saved for affairs.  It just works that way in high society.  Well, maybe outside of high society it is the same, but on a smaller scale.

            There are a host of other issues being showcased in The House of Mirth.  You have to read it for yourself.  It was very well done, tragic as it was; but powerful and thought provoking.  I enjoyed it immensely and am looking forward to more Wharton novels in the future.

            For now, I am going on a nice, little, early summer vacation with my family, and when I return, God willing, I will begin my next novel in The Well-Educated Mind: The Great Gatsby.  


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