Graduation Year

2004

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Everton, Michael.

Keywords

Edith Wharton, American literature, the novel, naturalism, realism

Abstract

The focus of this study is Lily Bart and how she maneuvers in the cold, competitive world of upper class New York. To create a framework for my investigation, I draw upon naturalistic readings of the story which portray Lily as an outsider or "other" in her society. Lily's ethical principles lead to her destruction. Her marriage problem is just an example of her rejection of the life that her society expects her to lead. As she becomes more aware of a different philosophy of life--characterized by Selden's "republic of the spirit"--she finds it impossible to abide by the rules and customs of her society. Ultimately she is unable to live in either world successfully. My research suggests that Lily's moral integrity prevents her from marrying only for money, but she is unable to see other choices available to her that will satisfy her need for luxury and wealth.

In my study of Lily I examine the reasons why she could not reconcile the two opposing principles that lead to her downfall. My work analyzes Lily's inner struggles between her values and her ambition.

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