House Of Mirth And Loneliness Essay

Loneliness is a prevalent theme throughout Edith Wharton’s novel, The House of
Mirth. The following passage relates to the theme of loneliness and dramatizes
Lily Bart’s dilemma of poverty: “All she looked on was the same and yet
changed. There was a great gulf fixed between today and yesterday. Everything in
the past seemed simple, natural, full of daylight-and she was alone in a place
of darkness and pollution.-Alone! It was the loneliness that frightened
her.” (p.142) The passage shows the abrupt loneliness Lily feels since she
loses her friends, and it also dramatizes her poverty by enabling her to reach a
startling realization about herself. Lily realizes that the loneliness she feels
is not due to not having friends or money, but the fact that she had been living
a life so poor in purpose or reason. Lily begins to feel lonely after she
quickly loses the company of her friends. In the past, she enjoyed a simple life
of playing bridge and attending fancy dinners with the wealthy women of high
society. But now, her reputation is shattered and she realizes the women in her
society are cruel and would not hesitate to talk about her behind her back,
“She knew, moreover, that if the ladies at Bellomont permitted themselves
to criticize her friends openly, it was a proof that they were not afraid of
subjecting her to the same treatment behind her back.” (p.125) Lily feels
so lonely that she is desperate in rebuilding her reputation, “and the
first step in the tedious task was to find out, as soon as possible, on how many
of her friends she could count.” (p. 217) But without the money and
luxuries that her old friends had, Lily finds she has even fewer friends to
count on that she thought, making it very difficult to regain her position in
high society. Lily’s increasing poverty, in addition to the loss of all her old
friends continues to make her feel lonely. The painful fact that she owes Gus
Trenor nine thousand dollars is a hard blow on Lily. Lily knows she is alone in
a terrible position, and feels trapped: “She seemed a stranger to herself,
or rather there were two selves in her, the one she had always known, and a new
abhorrent being to which it found itself chained.” (p. 142) Suddenly she is
no longer the strikingly beautiful Lily Bart that everyone attends to, but a
poor and lonely woman in a crowded restaurant whose “eyes sought the faces
about her, craving a responsive glance, some sign of an intuition of her
trouble.” (p.290) Lily’s feelings of loneliness are heightened when she
discovers that she did not inherit her aunt Julia’s estate. A large sum of money
could easily alleviate most of her worries and loneliness. She knows that if she
had money she could pay off all of her debts and maybe go on to win back her
friends. That’s why her aunt Julia’s death is not as shocking as expected; she
could use her inheritance to pay off the debts and to finally put an end to the
feelings of loneliness caused by them. But after the reading of the will,
“Lily stood apart from the general movement, feeling herself for the first
time utterly alone.” (p. 213) She knows that the women would have accepted
her if she had inherited the entire estate, “They were afraid to snub me
while they thought I was going to get the money-afterward they scuffled off as
if I had the plague.” (p.214) Without the money, Lily continues to live
alone and helpless. Lily Bart’s dilemma of poverty is dramatized when Lily feels
a different kind of loneliness, one that leads her to a horrifying
self-realization. This new loneliness that she feels is not due to material
poverty, but “of deeper empoverishment-of an inner destitution compared to
which outward conditions dwindled into insignificance.” (p. 306) Being poor
made Lily feel lonely, but now she is sickened by the realization that her life
quickly passed by without any meaning or substance. While other women married
and lived rich lives, or worked for charitable causes like Gerty Farish,
“she saw that there had never been a time when she had had any real
relation to life…Such a vision of the solidarity of life had never before come
to Lily.” (p. 306-7) Lily’s dilemma of poverty and now this deeper
impoverishment is further dramatized when Lily feels moments of happiness before
falling asleep at the end of the novel. Before falling asleep Lily feels Nettie
Struther’s baby against her arm: “she suddenly understood why she did not
feel herself alone…Nettie Struther’s child was laying on her arm…but she
felt no great surprise at the fact, only a gentle penetrating thrill of warmth
and pleasure.” (p. 310) Lily finds comfort in Nettie’s baby and cherishes
its essence. Nettie’s child gives hope, and confirms Lily’s new beliefs that she
could find happiness within a lifestyle less than luxurious. Without the
discomfort of loneliness, Lily peacefully falls asleep believing that she could
beat the odds like Nettie Struther had done. After losing all of her friends and
all of her money, Lily’s sudden loneliness enables her to realize that her life
was fleeting and insignificant. Her carefree days are over and her shallow
friends gone. “Lily had no heart to lean on,” (p. 143) and the pains
of being poor and lonely lead her to realize that her life had passed quickly
with nearly no purpose or reason. But Nettie Struther’s child, a symbol of
perseverance offers a glimmer of hope and eternal peace. The novel ends
dramatically when Lily dies still feeling Nettie’s child beside her, with all
her debts paid, and all the loneliness vanished; yet Lily Bart is still
“something rootless and ephemeral, mere spindrift of the whirling surface
of existence.” (p. 306)

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