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Themes

Gender roles are clearly established in House of Mirth. Men bring home the bacon, and women look pretty and keep tabs on the couple's social currency. Though they keep up good appearances, women in this novel can certainly be vicious – at least to each other. Married women guard their husbands carefully, both their affections and their money. Interestingly, however, it's the women who have the affairs in this novel, often with younger, less wealthy men who live off the married women's money in exchange for company.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Does Lily have the same control over women that she does over men? Compare her first three interactions in the novel: Selden, Percy Gryce, and Mrs. Dorset.
  2. Lily seems to have adopted her mother's policy on some issues. How much of her mother lives on through Lily? Is she making any attempts to shake off her childhood teachings?
  3. Which gender is more moral in this novel – the men, or the women?

Chew on This

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

Wharton's point of view in House of Mirth is a misogynist one.

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