House of Mirth Position Paper

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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...
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