Throughout The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton uses many themes and motifs; gambling being a dominant one. Lily Bart is constantly testing her luck with her need to feel as if she has the upper hand in many situations. Lily always seems to throw out winning cards because she thinks that a better hand will come to her in the next round. Many readers might think that Lily is merely a careless, self-centered, and money-hungry tease. She very well may be all of those things; however, I believe it is all due to her addiction to gambling. Gambling gives Lily the rush that she craves in her boring upper class life, which has taught her to be cool, calm, and collected—the perfect poker face to disguise her addiction. Lily Bart’s incessant addiction to gambling with money, men and her own life, in due course leads to her demise.
In the beginning, Lily is initially hesitant to play Bridge with the group of socialites to which she belongs. She recalls Ned Silverton fighting a gambling addiction when he was younger, “Lily had seen his charming eyes change from surprise to amusement, and from amusement to anxiety; as he passed under the spell of the terrible god of chance” (26). Lily knows that gambling amongst the wealthy is not something she can afford to do, and she does not want to end up like Ned Silverton’s sisters having no sugar for her tea. After all, how could she go without the finer things that she has grown accustomed? Wharton writes, “but she knew that the gambling passion was upon her, and in her present surroundings there was small hope of resisting it” (27). Lily is completely aware of the repercussions of the addiction. However, her addictive behaviors allow her to give in to temptation and she begins to gamble her money, yet she does not want to admit to herself that it is a problem, as most addicts will not.
As Lily returns to her room after a night of Bridge, she counts what money she has with her and realizes she does not have much money left. There is no way that she had gambled away such a large sum of her own money; that is just not something that she would do. The only feasible explanation is that someone robbed her while she was playing cards (27). This is true for many addicts, as they always seem to blame their addictive behaviors on other people. Lily recalculated the numbers repeatedly, which is another example of addictive behavior, until it finally donned on her that she, herself, had indeed gambled away that 300 dollars (p. 27).
Lily gambles with many men hoping that the next man will give her the winning hand. This begins years ago when Mrs. Peniston matches Lily with an Italian Prince. Amidst settling the agreement, Lily decides to test her luck and flirt with the Prince’s stepson. Of course, this is unacceptable and all of the work put in by Mrs. Peniston, as well as Lily, becomes void (p. 189). This demonstrates Lily’s gambling addiction because no woman, in her right mind, would mess up an engagement with a Prince,...