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Comparison Of Edith Wharton's House Of Mirth And Toni Morrison's Jazz In Identity Formation Of The Characters Through Dependence On Others For Money And Love

2012 words - 8 pages

Discovering One's Identity: Love and Money in New York City "With some people, solitariness is an escape not from others, but from themselves. For they see in the eyes of others only a reflection of themselves." The quote by Eric Hoffer reminds me of Toni Morrison's Jazz and Edith Wharton's House of Mirth in that the main characters of the novels encountered pivotal crises where their sense of identity was thwarted by money, love, or their relationship with another character. The House of Mirth centers on Lily Bart's attempt to acquire wealth and a haughty social status, which, in turn, leads her to achieving a sense of self, but only at the highest of cost. Her relationships with Selden and other male characters, such as Percy and Trenor, lead her to a full realization of her true place in society and teach great moral lessons to the reader on wealth and love. In Jazz, Toni Morrison portrays the difficulty of African-American's in New York City in their ability to gain a sense of self understanding through the obstacles of money and the emotion of love through the characters of Dorcas, Violet, Joe, and Golden Gray. Although race and societal status of the primary characters offers a certain degree of variation between Jazz and The House of Mirth, both novels give inspiring dimensions to characters that alert and instruct the reader to a higher level of understanding themselves in a society whose high values are placed on achieving wealth, prominent status, and profitable personal relationships, extraneous to love or personal satisfaction. The theme of love is introduced in both novels from the very beginning, both leading us down paths in which identity and money play equally important roles. When Violet sets the parrot squawking, "I love you," free and when Selden's eyes become "refreshed" at the sight of "Miss Lily Bart," the reader does not yet know, but will soon learn to find out, that each relationship will lead to different paths of either self-destruction or self-fulfillment. "She was so evidently the victim of civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate," (Wharton, 5). For starters, the character of Lily in The House of Mirth is obviously the epitome of a lower-middle class woman, striving to gain status in upper-class elitist New York City society via marriage to a man who has already gained that status. She continues on the topic of Selden's cousin Gerty, "But we're so different, you know: she likes being good, and I like being happy. And besides, she is free and I am not" (Wharton, 6). From the very beginning, the reader knows he/she is dealing with a very narrow-minded, money driven woman who represents every stereotype of a woman as a being dependant on her husband for money and societal respect. When Selden asks, "Isn't marriage in your vocation? Isn't it what you're all brought up for?" the reader is not at all surprised by her reply, "...What...

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