Realism In Wharton’s The House Of Mirth

1668 words - 7 pages

In realist novels, the author gives readers a sense of the real world by avoiding the dramatic aspects of other genre of novels. The realist novels are more focused on the character(s) rather than the action and the plot by showing the character’s real complications of nature and motives in society. Therefore, “realist novels typically end in fall or failure, often as an ironic commentary on social values of self-improvement or success. A character may get what he or she desires, but be faced with the unexpected consequences of that desire” [Prompt]. In Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Lily Bart’s ending is an ironic rise because her meeting with Nettie and paying back her debts gives her the strength and courage to chase after her own happiness, but Lawrence Selden’s ending is an ironic fall because of his failure to overcome his cowardice and tentativeness to propose to Lily. The endings of both Lily and Selden defines the cruelty of the social system that forces women to marry for economic reasons and condemns them with poverty if they fail to do so.
Set in New York City in the 1800’s, Wharton’s The House of Mirth is about the protagonist, Lily Bart’s struggle to enter the upper-class society through marriage, which ultimately leads to the downfall of her fortunes. In the end, Lily is forced to act upon a compromising social situation and is rejected from society. At Bryant Park, Lily meets Nettie, a girl Lily saved when she was participating in a Gerty charity organization. It turns out that Lily saved Nettie, who is now successfully married. Lily holds Nettie’s baby for a little bit and for that single moment, she felt happier and stronger. Then at home, Lily receives a check of ten thousand dollars from Mrs. Peniston’s estate, which she uses to pay off her debt to Gus Trenor and other loans. Realizing that she is finally free of debt but is now broke, she foresaw her future full of poverty that she has always despised. So when she takes out her sleeping medicine, she realizes that taking more that the prescribed medication is her escape to freedom, causing her to die in her sleep. The next day, Selden seeks out Lily for her hand in marriage after having an epiphany of how much he loves her, only to find her dead. Alone at last, Selden is tempted to lie next to Lily and realizes that it was his cowardice and hesitation that separated them.
Lily’s meeting with Nettie at Bryant Park makes the ending of this novel an ironic rise because Nettie represents the things Lily could have if Lily did not die in the end. Nettie’s successful marriage forces Lily to think about her life outside the cruel social system that pressures her to marry for wealth. Nettie’s renewed life helps Lily to fully realize that she should put her illogical approach to society behind her and simply ignore the social demands to marry into an upper class for wealth. Hearing Nettie’s life about how her husband knows that she has an illegitimate child...

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