Marriage is the duty and end-game for 29-year-old, strikingly beautiful Lily Bart, a single girl mingling with the social elite in New York in the late 1800s. Lily struggles with the novel's central conflict: marry for love, or marry for money? In a time when women are expected to live off their husbands, option #2 seems like the only way to go. The married couples featured in the novel certainly fit this mold, and the married characters fall into some rather bland gender roles. The men earn the money on Wall Street, and the women keep their families rolling in social currency.
The House of Mirth condemns the institution of marriage as false and self-serving.