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Quotes

Quote #1

She began to cut the pages of a novel, tranquilly studying her prey through downcast lashes while she organized a method of attack. Something in his attitude of conscious absorption told her that he was aware of her presence: no one had ever been quite so engrossed in an evening paper! (1.2.8)

Look at the battle tactics involved in even the smallest of interactions in this novel. Lily has to measure and consider every word and action – it's no wonder she feels so trapped.

Quote #2

Even such scant civilities as Lily accorded to Mr. Rosedale would have made Miss Stepney her friend for life; but how could she foresee that such a friend was worth cultivating? How, moreover, can a young woman who has never been ignored measure the pang which this injury inflicts? And, lastly, how could Lily, accustomed to choose between a pressure of engagements, guess that she had mortally offended Miss Stepney by causing her to be excluded from one of Mrs. Peniston's infrequent dinner-parties? (1.11.47)

Wharton makes a decent point; we can't judge Lily for her treatment of Grace because Lily just doesn't know any better. She's not built for this sort of thing (more social determinism).

Quote #3

She had not known again till today that lightness, that glow of freedom; but now it was something more than a blind groping of the blood. The peculiar charm of her feeling for Selden was that she understood it; she could put her finger on every link of the chain that was drawing them together. (1.6.7)

It's interesting that Wharton uses this particular metaphor, since social determinism is repeatedly described as a set of "manacles" or "chains." Perhaps Lily's attraction to Selden is as much out of her control as her prescribed role in society.

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