The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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Themes and Colors
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Gender, Class, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The House of Mirth, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel The House of Mirth explores the rewards and dangers of living in New York’s high society. Lily Bart, a young woman of moderate means, wants to secure her position among the rich upper crust. Convinced that her main purpose in life is to live in luxury and dazzle the people around her with her beauty, she strives to marry a rich man and secure her wealth. However, plagued by reckless…

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In twentieth-century New York high society, people’s social fortunes are determined by their social reputation. Like so many other members and aspirers of the upper class, Lily Bart follows the rules of the game and takes part in deceit and manipulation to secure her social standing. However, when Lily herself suffers from defamation and is then given the opportunity to take revenge on her enemy, Bertha Dorset, through blackmail, Lily is forced to confront…

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As a young unmarried woman in twentieth-century New York high society, Lily Bart is forced to abide by a series of rules regulating her sexual and social behavior. In this context, in which she constantly needs to protect her reputation from potential accusations of impropriety, Lily feels that she can never be free. At the same time, Lily cannot conceive of life outside of the restrictions of high society and finds herself bending to prevailing…

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In twentieth-century New York’s high society, Lily Bart belongs to a social world in which friendships are constantly limited by self-interest. In the same way that people use her for social advancement, Lily uses her so-called “friends” to enhance her own prestige and financial resources. However, as Lily becomes better acquainted with people such as Gerty Farish and Lawrence Selden, who do not belong to the same circle as her, she realizes that the…

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