Realism: The Ending And Its Irony

1438 words - 6 pages

Irony is common in realist novels that reveal the fall and/or rise of characters among other aspects. It is mostly shown at the end which is usually tragic but tell readers the fate of the characters. Realist novels have plausible events, with cause and effect in their stories — what the characters desire and the consequences they receive because of that. Realism in the novel, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, was clearly shown through Lily Bart's character with its ironic ending that had both her fall and rise as a character. She was known for her beauty in the novel; she made various mistakes in the process of entering the high social status. Her physical beauty was not enough to establish herself in society if her name was not included in the social classes. Her character's weaknesses and strengths were shown through her goal of achieving a place in the social hierarchy, and her relationship with Lawrence Selden. Lily's tragic death at the end revealed more about her character, and the strength of her relationship with Selden.
The ending in The House of Mirth has an ironic combination of both rise and fall for Lily Bart. She failed in the literal sense because she passed away and did not physically get married into the upper class. However, she was able to pay off her debts to Gus Trenor with her inheritance from her aunt. Being able to pay off her debts meant more than getting rid of financial burdens for Lily's character. She was able to redeem herself in the end — she gained morality through death. She had the option to blackmail Bertha with the letters from Bertha to Selden about their affairs. The letters would had save her financial problems, since George Dorset offered to marry her, but she decided not to follow through. She knew that the letters would harm both Selden and Bertha so she decided against it when she told George Dorset, "‘you are mistaken-quite mistaken-both in the facts and in what you infer from them" (274). Also, when she dropped the letters in Selden's fireplace before she bid him goodbye in chapter twelve. Lily had pitfalls then redeemed herself and this process occurred continuously. Part of her fall was being in debt in the first place; it was a disgrace from her. She was able to pay them back, and did so in the correct and ethical way — not blackmailing anyone. Although her rise was that she did the right thing, it killed her. Tragically, she was literally free from her debts and her own body, but also free from society — the world that required her to marry into the rich. She was free from the society that made her believe she needed money, which won over the importance of personal love and happiness she found in Selden. Lily's situational irony was she had the desire to be wealthy and in the social elite circle, but lost her life because of that. Her desires led to consequences that were costly; she had rumors spread about her, no friends, ended her life, and lost Selden in the end.
Selden and Lily's...

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