The Custom of the Country


Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country Themes

Themes and Colors
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Custom of the Country, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Marriage and Divorce

Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country is a novel full of marriages and divorces. Over the course of the book, the main character, Undine Spragg, gets divorced three times and married four times, and along the way, she considers even more marriage options. While Undine is perhaps an extreme example when it comes to quick marriages and divorces (her first marriage lasted just two weeks), her character illustrates how the conventions of marriage…

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Materialism and Ambition

On the surface, Undine Spragg, the main character of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country, seems unrelentingly selfish. She has an endless appetite for buying new things, and she quickly burns through the money of any other character foolish enough to give it to her. But behind Undine’s selfishness is the insecurity that she’s never doing enough to keep up with the people around her. While Undine’s father (Mr. Spragg)…

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Gender Roles

The characters in Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country live in a society that adheres to a gender binary where men and women fulfill different roles and face different expectations. While Undine Spragg is willful and impulsive, she still lives in a patriarchal world where men hold most of the positions of authority in business, political, and religious matters. Because of this, men play a similarly authoritative role in her own life. Particularly in…

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In addition to being a time of significant social change, the early 20th century (when The Custom of the Country was published and takes place) was also a time of widespread political and business corruption, and this corruption is a constant backdrop throughout the novel. Many of the wealthy characters in the novel, particularly “new money” characters like Mr. Spragg and Elmer Moffatt (who originally come from humbler backgrounds), appear respectable on the surface…

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