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The House of Mirth - Personal Freedom Over Society's Will.

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The House of Mirth - Personal Freedom Over Society's Will The structure and organization of a novel, while considered an inherent part of any literary piece also serves an important role as it complements the plot structure, characterization and its thematic development. The structure Edith Wharton uses in The House of Mirth seems to mirror the gradual waning of Lily's spirit. Book I seemingly is strictly structured by Lily's behavior and attitude while Book II is much more extensive and chaotic. Book I is in accordance with Lily's actions, which seem to defy society's 'obiter dictum' and thus leading to the complicated and intricate scene between Lily and Gus Trenor, which is at the center of Wharton's novel. Book II has a looser structure, which follows the downward vortex of Lily's life from being the Dorset's companion to finally dying in a shoddy boardinghouse. Thematically this spiral emphasizes Lily's deteriorating control over her own life. By refusing to marry even though she is growing older and poorer, she takes a drastic turn away from potential freedom to complete subjugation from external control, first from people and eventually from abstract forces such as poverty and anxiety. The encounter between Gus and Lily (i.e. ...read more.


She would have to repay Trenor in order to be out of his grasp, an affair would lead horribly to "scandal" (116) and thus that road was undoubtedly out of the question. Lily while she still seems to embody society's ideal of the female that of being subservient, dependent, submissive, nonassertive, and docile - it is her "invulnerable" (116) self-esteem and her ability to mask her terror and fear that forces Trenor to crack and let Lily go. If Lily had broken emotionally, Wharton leads us to believe that Trenor would have sprung. We therefore witness such an emotional clash of wills that is unseen elsewhere in the novel. Trenor is obviously trying to bully Lily into submission but yet Lily's fa´┐Żade of confidence seems to diminish the fighting "primitive" spirit of Trenor. The choice of words by Wharton shows the extremity of the confrontation: "brute," "primitive," and "formidable" for Augustus Trenor but "moral shame," "physical dread," "fearful," and "helpless" for Lily. Wharton's ambivalence is plainly obvious: indirectly Trenor holds all the cards but yet the 'victory' (if it can be called that) is with Lily as she is able to escape unscathed. The supposed "moral shame" (116) also brings Lily's supposed morality into light. ...read more.


Lily craves the submissiveness society had all along expected of her in death. She increases the dosage of the sleeping medicine to achieve the "gradual cessation of the inner throb, the soft approach of passiveness ... the sense of complete subjugation" (255). Therefore we see that while the passage shows, Lily in a sense maintaining her sense of free will and personal freedom, in death however society is still enforcing a permanent passivity on Lily Brat. Therefore a sense of duality and ambivalence clearly comes as out in the conflict between personal freedom and choice, and conformity and subjugation. While the former is seemingly glorified we see the pain and suffering that could have been avoided if the later had been chosen. The passage I feel was exhilarating and fast paced, which is a far cry from the normal slow tempo of the rest of the novel on the whole. The struggle and downward spiral that Lily faces from that point captivates the reader and Wharton successfully draws one in - hook, line and sinker. While we have to wait until the end to find a conclusion to Lily's struggle and battle against society, her death undoubtedly touched all readers. I fully believe Wharton's other novels will follow in the example of this excellent passage. 1 ...read more.

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