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Themes

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.

Questions About Marriage

  1. Is Lily hiding her reaction to Mrs. Trenor's lecture in Book I, Chapter Seven, or does she really not care that Gryce is gone?
  2. Does Lily ever really want to marry Selden? Is she opposed to marrying a bore like Percy Gryce, or is she opposed to the institution of marriage as a whole?
  3. Are there any good marriages in House of Mirth? What would a "good marriage" mean to Wharton, based on the point-of-view you see in the novel?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The House of Mirth condemns the institution of marriage as false and self-serving.

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