The Coquette

The Coquette

Themes and Colors
Women and Society Theme Icon
Sex and Virtue Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Coquette, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Hannah Webster Foster’s epistolary novel, The Coquette, focuses on Eliza Wharton, a middle-class woman from Connecticut, as she navigates the patriarchal society of eighteenth-century America. The novel takes place in 1797, mere decades after America’s independence from Britain, but the role of women in the new nation has not been similarly liberated. Women have very little control over their fate and are typically confined to the domestic sphere, where they are valued for…

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At the center of post-Revolutionary American social fabric is the importance of virtue, or high moral standing and righteousness, which is tantamount to modesty and chastity. “Virtue in the common acceptation of the term,” the Reverend Boyer maintains, “is confined to that particular, you know.” Indeed, as protagonist Eliza Wharton entertains the attention of various men, her image of modesty and chastity is tarnished, and her virtue is likewise lost in the eyes of society…

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Marriage is a central part of post-Revolutionary American society in The Coquette. Foster’s protagonist, Eliza Wharton, is a single woman in her 30s, but her dear friends, General and Mrs. Richman, “are the picture of conjugal felicity.” Another of Eliza’s friends, Lucy Freeman, is to be married, as well, and their shared acquaintance, Julia Granby, is eager to follow in Lucy’s footsteps. Eliza, however, doesn’t share her friends’ high regard…

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To Eliza Wharton, friendship is the most important aspect of life. She is incredibly dedicated to her friends, and in an epistolary novel consisting entirely of letters, Eliza frequently corresponds with her closest friends but writes her mother, Mrs. Wharton, only twice. Eliza has “a temper peculiarly formed for the enjoyments of social life,” which she values above all else. She even dismisses marriage in large part because she considers it “the tomb…

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