An Analysis Of Lily's Identity In The House Of Mirth By Edith Wharton

1787 Words8 Pages
Khadija Alasow
ENG 337
Final Essay
Oppression and suppression of Lily’s identity
The notion of Identity is made up of individual qualities and/or beliefs that are inherent in one’s character. The identity also plays a role in how they portray themselves to others. However, if society isn’t accepting of your beliefs and values one will attempt to mask their true identity and adopt the given one. Written in 1905, Edith Wharton’s novel The House of Mirth portrays the downfall of Lilly Bart ……..consumed with superficial materialistic . Wharton’s uses Lily’s narrative to metaphorically highlight how gender oppression and repression results in dual identity as “masked social performance” that leads to her death as the ultimate answer. In other words,
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During the American Modernist period the first wave of feminism emerged during this period which many of its characteristics is seen in The House of Mirth. Women actively sought changes that would allow them to experience life as men’s equals rather than as their subordinates. Gender roles were rigidly defined, and women who resisted them were often ignored, and/or criticized. As a result of these and many other limiting factors, women, especially wives, were significantly dependent on men. In Edith Wharton's Arguments with America, Elizabeth Ammons notes that:
The culture at large boasted symbols of progress like the world-famous Woman's Building or the Amazonian Gibson Girl, announcements each of the modern woman's freedom from Victorian strictures...With this enthusiasm in the air, Edith Wharton sounded a sour, dissenting note.
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Thus Lily develops a ‘double consciousness or masquerade that permits her to be aware of the main culture even though she is a marginalized character.When LIly places so much importance and preoccupation on maintaining a public persona or social mask, the mask starts to gains too much power. In his article “Disowning ‘Personality’: Privacy and Subjectivity in The House of Mirth” William E. Moddelmog argues:
The “real Lily” for whom [Lily] searches turns out to be plural rather than singular. While burning the letters Lily at the moment imagines herself possessing two selves, a fact that complicates her ‘passionate desire to be understood’ and her desire that Selden ‘see her wholly.’ (Moddelmog 353).
Lily tries to create a prominent, satisfying place for herself in society through commodification such as masking a social performance. She conflicted between feelings of “consumerist elation” and a desire to break free from the restraints of her society. Sometimes Lily is interested in being a part of the “hierarchies of wealth and prestige,” but she also wants to be an individual who won’t be defined by her place in any “naturalized social ranking.” (23). The latter sounds close to Selden’s “republic of the spirit.” Selden desires to live his life with a “personal freedom...from everything—from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all

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