The first morning Lily wakes up at the Emporium Hotel, she feels a deep sense of physical comfort that reassures her. Lily’s job is to assist a rich, divorced woman from the west, Norma Hatch, in her social climb. Although Carry Fisher does not know Mrs. Hatch personally, she learned of the opportunity through a lawyer named Melville Stancy.
Lily’s pleasure at her material surroundings reveal her obsession with living in a world where all her physical and aesthetic needs might be taken care of, without necessarily benefiting from equal moral or intellectual advantages.
At the hotel, Lily finds herself in a strange environment, in which Mrs. Hatch and her friends seem to have no connection to real life, enjoying an existence of unproductive diversion, whose obligations seem to obey no reliable timetable. Lily is surprised to note that Ned Silverton and Freddy Van Osburgh, who has barely left college, frequent Mrs. Hatch’s drawing-room. Lily realizes that this constitutes an alternative, unconventional world in which such men seem to enjoy themselves.
Lily’s realization that Mrs. Hatch lives detached from real life serves as an exaggerated representation of Lily’s own world. Although high society might have norms and rules, these structural elements remain self-interested and disconnected from any political or social issues, focused as they are on the mere enjoyment of its members.
Over time, Lily feels puzzled by the nature of her job. Not only does she feel that she is only given vague duties, but she begins to wonder why Ned Silverton seems so close to Stancy, and why they both seem so intent on nurturing the relationship between Mrs. Hatch and Freddy Van Osburgh, who seems to like the divorcée a lot. Lily, who feels that Freddy’s naïveté might be easily taken advantage of, is puzzled to note that the young man seems to be interested in Mrs. Hatch’s long-term social future.
Lily’s doubts about her job reveal that her appreciation of material comforts does not blind her to moral issues. Once again, she is confronted to the dark side of social transactions, in which people scheme to serve their narrow self-interests. This shows how morally corrupt Lily’s world is—in the sphere of people like Bertha, the Gormers and, now, Mrs. Hatch as well.
When Selden comes to visit Lily one afternoon, he only increases Lily’s growing doubts about being involved in such mysterious social transactions. While Lily is initially embarrassed, and then pleasantly surprised to see her friend, whose absence has hurt her deeply these past months, Selden remains surprisingly serious.
Lily’s pain at noticing Selden’s absence reveals her deep attachment to him, and also highlights the fact that Selden never explained to her why he preferred to stay away. His presence, however, suggests that he still cares about her and wants to protect her.
Selden and Lily engage in an awkward conversation, in which they remain uncomfortably distant and detached, and Selden admits that he is following Gerty’s advice to help Lily. He explains that his purpose is to take her away from here, making allusive reference to the danger of remaining with Mrs. Hatch and arguing that Lily could stay with Gerty until she receives Mrs. Peniston’s inheritance. However, when Lily reveals that she would have to spend all of this money repaying her debts, Selden is shocked. The conversation remains uncomfortable for the two of them, and Lily, moved by pride and a sense of detachment, refuses to make herself seem vulnerable to him.
Lily’s comment about her debts serves as an indication to Selden that her situation is not as simple as it may seem. This highlights the fact that Selden’s initial decision to distance himself from Lily was based on false rumors, and that he has failed to be honest with her about the reasons behind his behavior. Lily’s feeling of pride reveals her need to maintain a social façade with him, since he has proven to her, since seeing her leave Gus Trenor’s house, that he is truly interested in hearing her side of the story.