House of Mirth

Affluence to Influence: Social Class in House of Mirth College

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton offers a multidimensional and fluid analysis of social class. Initially, Lily attempts to belong to the upper class. However, through a series of unfortunate decisions, we witness Lily’s inevitable descent into dinginess, poverty, and death. Towards the end, Lily is utterly “alone in a place of darkness and pollution” (Wharton p. 156). While Lily’s social actions are personally righteous, she discovers herself to be in a cruel and critical society often seeking to oppress lower classes. Just as Dante’s classical descent into Hell in the Inferno is meant to provide glimpses of the unknown in an effort to turn individuals toward salvation, Lily’s social deterioration showcases the perils of descending social class as well as the social chasms separating populations. Poverty became both a metaphorical and literal death for Lily. Further, Marx’s superstructure of social class is explored in the context beyond labor and property: one must also possess social prowess, power, influence, access, and proper taste to fully be accepted into the elite.

In The House of Mirth, the largest divide between classes comes in the form of social competency. For example, Simon Rosedale, a wealthy Jewish man...

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