The House Of Mirth By Edith Wharton Essay

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The House of Mirth, written by Edith Wharton, depicts the social system and how it functioned during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Through looking at the social rise and fall of Lily Bart, the protagonist, one can see how education, gender, and social status determine value and success. By the evident contrast between upper class and lower class values in the novel, the theme of performance is illuminated. Each character in the novel is performing—Lily, especially—and does so as a way of socially furthering themselves. This is due to the fact that in the novel, social status determines value; value increases as social status increases. This idea of performance correlating with social status and personal value aligns with Louis Althusser’s thesis regarding ideology: ideology is determined before birth and is performed. Ideology forms as soon as one is addressed and responds; Lily responds “yes” to each person who addresses her, but each address puts her in a different performance, causing her to be a reciprocal of these ideologies. Lily faces an internal conflict of which ideology she belongs to: was she pre-determined with an upper class ideology, or lower class ideology? Is she the person who is addressed by Percy Gryce, or Nettie Struther? This ideological struggle is conveyed most clearly when she interacts with Lawrence Selden, who challenges her values and beliefs. Two versions of Lily exist within the novel that perform and speak to each ideology. In “Ideology
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