The House of Mirth

by: Edith Wharton

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols

Money

The House of Mirth deals with American class hierarchies, which are dictated by money, unlike European classes, where nobility is predetermined and not totally dependent upon wealth. Thus money is the only way in—and out—of the upper class circles that Lily frequents. More than access, money also ranks individuals within the circle. Percy Gryce is the most desired bachelor for a time because of his extraordinary wealth, and the Trenors are continually hosting events because of their financial resources. Money is also linked with power: Bertha Dorset’s version of Lily and George’s relationship is believed over Lily’s simply because Bertha is richer. Money defines characters as well. Selden is partially defined by his lack of desire for wealth, in contrast with the rest of the characters. Most important for this novel, money drives the plot of Lily’s fall from upper-class eligible socialite to outcast working-class spinster.