The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third Person (Omniscient)
Most critics have concluded that the narrator's voice is that of Wharton's – that all that commentary and those incisive little asides represent the voice of the author. The tone of the author, therefore (see "Tone"), is also that of the narrator. Because of the narrative omniscience, as readers, we are able to see with both breadth and depth the society in which Lily Bart lives. We're allowed access not only to our heroine's head, but to the thoughts and opinions of those around her as well.
Turn to Book I, Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen, for an interesting amalgamation of three unique perspectives: Lily, Gerty, and Selden. These three accounts of two incredibly tempestuous days are spliced together to increase dramatic tension and explore all the sides of a single story. As the novel continues, we're allowed insight into the thoughts of more and more characters – even Ned Silverton gets a brief spotlight in Book II, Chapter One. It's important that, as readers, we're allowed access to more minds than just that of Lily Bart. To judge and understand our heroine, we have to also judge and understand her context – made up, of course, of the many characters whom surround her.