In late April, Lily watches fancy carriages pass by in the streets of New York. Because of Lily’s health problems, she did not go to Mme. Regina’s shop as often as she should have and has recently been dismissed, a decision Lily understands to be fair.
Lily does not attribute all of her problems to other people’s behavior. Rather, she is capable of introspection and remains committed to justice, even if it must affect her negatively.
When Lily returns home, she sees Rosedale on the doorstep and feels hopeful again. Rosedale is shocked to hear that Lily is out of work and he insists that Lily accept a loan to repay Gus Trenor. However, Lily refuses to accept such a transaction, which reminds her of her failed business agreement with Gus. At the same time, she knows that all she would have to do for Rosedale to marry her is use Bertha’s letters against her. Throughout her conversation with Rosedale, she is moved by his passionate indignation at her situation.
Rosedale’s presence confirms that he is more loyal and reliable than Lily would have expected, since his attitude toward her is moved more by sincere concern than self-interest. Lily’s appreciation for this kindness, however, does not allow her to forget her experience with Gus, thus proving that she has lost all trust in the possibility for honesty and fairness in the world of high society.
That night, Lily reflects on the possibility of using Bertha’s letters to reintegrate into society. She argues to herself that she does not owe high society anything, and that blackmail is a social strategy potentially as valid as any other. She knows that, if she doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity to regain her social standing, she will probably be condemned to living in a low social class, a victim of society’s tyranny, with her own behavior less to blame than the values she inherited from her family and her upbringing.
Lily’s dilemma about Bertha’s letters forces her to confront a question she has evaded all her life: is money and power truly what she wants from life, or does she value happiness more? Although a working-class life does not guarantee her happiness, it does ensure that she retains her moral integrity, which, in turn, allows her to maintain the self-respect necessary to feel at peace with herself—whatever her material circumstances might be.
After a sleepless night, Lily goes for a walk and feels painfully lonely. Finally, in the afternoon, she returns home and decides to take Bertha’s letters to her. Feeling unusually calm and composed, despite the momentousness of the situation, Lily exits her house. However, when she walks down a certain street, she recalls walking there with Selden two years ago, and she feels a sharp sense of shame and knowing that her current resolution to use Bertha’s letters also affects him, since he is the recipient of the letters. Although she feels that the moment when Selden was part of her life is over, she passes by his house and feels a strong desire to enter and sit in his room. Following this whim, she enters his house.
In the end, as she passes by Selden’s house, Lily becomes aware that she would feel more proud of herself for honoring love and respect rather than following her instinct for revenge and the retrieval of social clout. Although she does not yet formulate it to herself clearly, she realizes that her friendship with him should matter more than her relationship with other people, such as members of high society, since the love she has felt for him is so much more intense than any feelings she might have for the people around her.