House of Mirth
The Cost of Conformity
According to the Marxist theoretician Louis Althusser, society's class structure and gender roles depend primarily not on economics, but on the power of attitudes and ideas. In Edith Wharton's classic work, The House of Mirth, characters show varying cognizances of this social force. Wharton's novel clearly illustrates that the evolution of a person's identity within Victorian-era American culture depended on his or her awareness of ideological influences. In particular, Wharton uses three archetypal groups to show that the margin of distinction between these two states of awareness is occupied by one's sense of self. She also structures the novel to poise her protagonist, Lily Bart, on the brink of a minefield that represents this dichotomy. Initially unaware, Lily's interaction with other characters gradually removes her ignorance, allowing her to see herself as she is--and, more importantly, forcing her to evaluate the emotional sacrifices associated with adopting her socially-constructed identity.
Victorian America was based on a gendered hierachy where men reigned supreme. In this world, men were regarded as the intrinsically superior sex, while women were looked down upon as an inferior caste. In...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 1125 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 8644 literature essays, 2330 sample college application essays, 378 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in