The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth: Book 2: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the fall, Lily helps Mrs. Gormer examine the house she and Mr. Gormer are building on Long Island. One day, as Lily is walking on the beach, she suddenly comes across George Dorset, whose house is nearby. Instead of ignoring Lily, as she thought he would, George eagerly comes up to her and tries to apologize to her for what happened at Monte Carlo, although Lily’s curt replies reveal her impatience with his attitude.
George’s sudden desire to talk to Lily reveals the gap between people’s public and private attitudes in high society. Although George has agreed to condemn Lily to social exclusion by not stepping up to defend her, he still tries to justify himself. Lily’s impatience reveals the hypocrisy of such an act, since apologizing privately does not modify Lily’s situation at all.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
As George explains that Bertha also manipulates him and that he desperately needs a friend, Lily feels pity for him but says that she cannot be his friend in these circumstances. George insists, and Lily keeps on rejecting him, until George finally makes an implicit offer to marry her, to which Lily replies coldly, unmoved, refusing to help him in any way. Finally, despite George’s desperate pleas, in which he insists on how kind Lily is, and how she could set him free, Lily takes her leave—although not after considering for a moment the possibility of taking such a forceful revenge on Bertha.
Lily’s pity for George reveals her capacity for selfless compassion, as well as her understanding that, in a social system in which individuals must submit to other people’s arbitrary power, such as Bertha’s, not everyone is equally supportive of the those people’s decisions. However, Lily’s unwillingness to listen to George shows that she does not condone his behavior, which only reveals his cowardice.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Back at Sam and Mattie Gormer’s, Lily learns that Bertha Dorset has just visited Mrs. Gormer, and Lily feels that Bertha is once again planning some evil deed. Mrs. Gormer, though, only feels thrilled to have received the visit of such an important member of society. When Lily returns to New York, after having found a hotel where she could stay, she receives a surprise visit from George Dorset, who once again begs her to save him. However, as she did earlier, Lily reiterates her unwillingness to be his friend in any way.
Lily’s unwillingness to accept George’s proposal to marry him and thus take revenge on Bertha reveals her aversion to behaving in the same vindictive way as Bertha. Lily thus shows that she is not ready to sacrifice her moral principles to mere social advancement, and that her desire to reintegrate society does not place her on the same, morally degraded level as people like Bertha.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon