House of Mirth

Critique the racialized treatment of Simon Rosedale? How does Wharton deploy anti-Semitism in her condemnation of social climbers?

Hi, can you answer this question it is form the novel House of Mirth. and I want some examples, and an opinion on this.

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Mr. Simon Rosedale

Character Analysis

The most interesting thing about Rosedale is the way Lily's vision of him – and accordingly our own vision – changes throughout the novel. Start at the beginning, when Lily encounters Simon outside of the Benedick:

He was a plump rosy man of the blond Jewish type, with smart London clothes fitting him like upholstery, and small sidelong eyes which gave him the air of appraising people as if they were bric-a-brac. […] Mr. Simon Rosedale was a man who made it his business to know everything about every one, whose idea of showing himself to be at home in society was to display an inconvenient familiarity with the habits of those with whom he wished to be thought intimate. (1.1.132, 1.2.3)

Our first picture of Rosedale is that of a social climber with the not-so noble ambition of being a member of the social elite. That really seems to be his sole purpose in life (other than making massive amounts of money, which apparently gives him no trouble at all).

At first, as readers, we tend to judge him for this. He seems shallow, self-serving, and generally a small and petty character. But, as the novel continues and the world around Lily is revealed to be morally corroded, selfish, and even downright cruel, the small kindnesses that Rosedale offers Lily single him out as a kind and caring man – a far cry from the gossip we first meet on the stairs of the Benedick. And Rosedale makes a decent case for himself and his social ambitions in the second half of the novel:

Why should I mind saying I want to get into society? A man ain't ashamed to say he wants to own a racing stable or a picture gallery. Well, a taste for society's just another kind of hobby. Perhaps I want to get even with some of the people who cold-shouldered me last year – put it that way if it sounds better. Anyhow, I want to have the run of the best houses; and I'm getting it too, little by little. (2.7.49)

Compared to Bertha's machinations and Grace's treatment of her cousin Lily, wanting to hob-nob with the elite doesn't sound so bad. And Lily realizes this, too. By Book II, Chapter Five, "she no longer absolutely despised him" (2.5.38). Er, right – Lily isn't exactly welcoming Rosedale with open arms, even after she decides she wants to marry him. But that's just more social determination at work. Remember that Lily is programmed to dislike men like Rosedale, just as much as Rosedale is programmed to want a woman like Lily and the world that she could offer him as a wife.


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ADVERTISEMENTThe House of Mirth Theme of Society and Class

Social climbing is the name of the game in this novel, which takes place in the elite circles of New York society during the very late 1800s. The cast of characters fall into distinct social spheres, from the wealthy and influential social elite all the way down to the working class. But the barriers between these circles are by no means impenetrable. Many characters teeter on the edge of the social elite, while others crawl their way up to the top or slide all the way down to the bottom of the social ladder. Money certainly helps in the ascent – and lack thereof certainly hastens the descent – but there's more to society than cold hard cash. Many times cash (or its extravagant uses) is traded for social currency, and there are many unofficial "jobs" to be filled servicing the social needs of the nouveau riche.


You might also want to link shmoop's page below; they have three pages of quotes related to society and class that may help you formulate your answer. The quotes are accompanied by explanations;