During the Gilded Age many people became extremely rich and kept getting richer and richer, while on the other hand the poor just kept getting poorer during this era. The economics during this time period was an essential of being categorized as a “well known” citizen or a “common” citizen in society. The line between the economic classes was drawn very distinctly at this time in the world. In “The House of Mirth,” by Edith Wharton, this fact of economic segregation is brought to ones attention several times. Edith Wharton shows this separation especially when it comes to the women characters in the book and how they interact in society. Wharton shows the differences between economics and women through the main character, Lily Bart, and how she is a slave to money, also the truth about how women during these times are dependent on the males in their lives to support them, and how Lily’s family views money.
Lily Bart is the main character that throughout the entire novel is caught between the economic strain in her life and happiness. Lily Bart has never been around a lot of money while she was growing up, but the entire story is about her trying to be something she is not. This is a huge irony in the story because Lily thinks she has freedom when she meets a man that is wealthy, but she is really hurting herself because she will never be truly happy with someone like that. The other side to this irony is that when Lily gets farther and farther into debt she feels that she enslaved. This comes when she meets men that are not up to the standard of living that she wants them to be at. The best example of this is when Lily meets Seldon and does not marry him because he does not flaunt his money like other men she has met. Wharton shows that during this day and age the females depend on males to give them a great lifestyle so that they are not known to be apart of the poor half of the society.
The biggest theme in this book is how Wharton paints the picture of women being totally dependent on the men in their lives. Wharton definitely expresses this through Lily Bart and how she deals with money. The fact that Lily cannot even recognize when she is extremely far in debt and that marrying someone that has a lot of money will not solve all of her problems. Another example of the female sex being dependent on the male sex is when Wharton brings the Trenor’s and Dorsett’s to the reader’s attention. These two families, actually couples, are very wealthy people in this society. These are the people that always have the lavish parties and invite only the other most wealthy and well known people from town to their gatherings. Mrs. Trenor shows at many times during parties she throws that the most important reason she married her husband is because she is able to throw these magnificent parties. She likes to have the most expensive and best items at her dinners.
The last example of women’s economic values in the Gilded Age is the way that Lily was raised as a child. Lily’s family views money in different ways. Lily was always given whatever she wanted and asked for from her father. This was the same for Lily’s mother. For example Wharton shows at one point that Lily’s mother always wanted to have the best flowers and fresh ones every day in their house. These two women never knew what it was to work for money and use their own to buy goods they wanted; they always had it handed to them. On the contrary Lily’s father always worked for what he got. Lily and her family were not the wealthiest family in town and her father could not really afford to give her and her mother everything they wanted, but the never said know to them.
The other side of women being dependent on the man in their life is how Wharton paints the picture of Lily’s aunt. Lily’s aunt has always worked for everything in her life and there has never been a man that she looked to, to buy he things. Lily’s aunt is the extreme difference of all the other women in the novel. She has quite a lot of money to her name but does not flaunt it to others around town. Wharton is showing that money is not the most important thing in the world through this character. Lily’s aunt also falls into Lily’s scheme of debt. Lily keeps piling up bills with dressmakers and playing bridge at parties, that she is not able to pay for all of these expenses by only the money she receives from men she has met. She turns to her aunt and asks her to help her relieve herself of some stress of her debt and Lily’s aunt helps her for awhile. She finally realizes that Lily is not paying off her debts and cuts her off. This is the exact opposite of a woman depending on a man for survival. This shows that women are capable of holding their own in this society but would rather not do anything and let their husbands keep them on their feet.