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House of Mirth Position Paper

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Essay title: House of Mirth Position Paper

Many say that money cannot buy happiness; in Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth” the saying could never hold truer. Often times, morality fell second to the deep need for financial security. New York’s high society in the early 20th century eradicated some, while making others realize their true beliefs. Social Darwinism was at the height of its popularity and many people believed in survival of the fittest. The characters in “The House of Mirth” show that life is what you make of it. Those who live most comfortably financially seem to live most ill at ease with themselves; follies and triumphs are portrayed in the characters of Gus Trenor and Lawrence Selden.

Gus Trenor is allowed to behave however he would like due to his financial situation. He likes to assist young women in fiscal need in turn for romantic favors. Throughout the book it is made clear to the reader how generally disliked he is. Edith Wharton describes Mr. Trenor as “…a coarse dull man who under all show of authority was a mere supernumerary in the costly show for which his money paid…” (90)

Lawrence Selden seems to be the moral rock in his social circle. Selden is not very smart in the subject of love. He doesn’t realize that his cousin, Gerty Farish, is in love with him. He also does not approach Lily with his proposal of marriage until he is a day too late. He often feels it necessary to criticize the decision-making and extravagant spending of the rich. The author’s discontent with the morals of the rich is clearly stated in this passage:

“ ‘You might as well say that the only way not to think about air is to have enough to breathe. That is true enough in a sense, but your lungs are thinking about the air if you are not. And so it is with your rich people: they may not be thinking of money, but they’re breathing it all the while; take them into another element and see how they squirm and gasp!’ ” (74)

Although Selden seems to be critical of those with wealth, he is not poor. One might say he is low high society, which means he is hardly struggling monetarily. He follows their strict social code, which in turn causes him to push Lily Bart away after Bertha accuses her of seducing her husband. When Selden realizes what will truly make him happy, he finds he has waited too long. He arrives at Lily’s apartment to find her dead on the floor after over dosing on chlorinated ethyl alcohol, a sleeping aid.

After going for a car ride with Miss Bart, Gus Trenor realizes that she is in dire financial straights. He offers to invest a small amount of her money into the stock market. She willingly agrees and instantly reaps the benefits. Although it might be painfully clear to the reader, it doesn’t seem as though Lily realizes that Mr. Trenor might want romantic favors in return for his kindness.

It is clear that life for Gus Trenor is far from perfect. His wife seemed to be looking for fiscal stability rather than love when she married her husband. She tells Lily, “ ‘ I am so glad you and Gus have become such good

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