House of Mirth

Climate Symbolism in "The House of Mirth" College

In The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton uses weather in a variety of ways that provide symbolic significance along with a vivid setting. Wharton uses weather, climate, and the change of seasons to foreshadow events in the immediate future and to reflect Lily’s emotional state or perceptions. When Lily’s view of events is impractical, unrealistic, or simply wrong, the climate and weather take on subtly ironic overtones. Yet to fully appreciate the ingenious subtlety of Wharton’s prose it is necessary to understand the climate and conditions in the settings she uses. This essay will begin by presenting a short description of the geography and climate relevant to The House of Mirth, with emphasis on how the change of seasons affects the behavior of Lily Bart and her peers so as to influence the plot of the novel. It will use specific examples to illustrate how the depictions of climate accurately reflect Lily’s subjective and frequently unrealistic impression of reality. It will show how climate is used to foreshadow key events, and it will present a scene in which climate symbolism is extremely ironic.

There are three settings in the novel where climate is relevant: the island of Manhattan, upstate New York, and the city of Monte...

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