Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics on “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The House of Mirth” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements from “House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Femininity in “The House of Mirth”
The main female characters, as well as the ancillary ones, in The House of Mirth all represent certain female “types” in the novel. Lily’s greatest dream is to raise her social standing by marrying a wealthy man; in this sense, she is a “traditional” woman. Each of the other female characters represents a different facet of femininity, yet each lacks complexity and depth. Lily, like the other female characters in “House of Mirth” is something of a stereotype as are several of the other female characters in “House of Mirth” Analyze the women characters in “The House of Mirth”, noting their similarities and their differences. What conclusions might the reader draw about femininity after reading this novel?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The House of Mirth as a New York Novel
Developing a sense of place is always crucial to making a novel believable and engaging to the reader. The House of Mirth is a New York novel, and the city’s place is established in the very first line of the book. As such, the novel is wholly different than it would be if set in, for example, in the Midwest. Consider the role that place plays in The House of Mirth. Does the city change depending upon Lily’s circumstances and mood? Citing textual evidence, what can you say to support the idea that The House of Mirth is a New York novel, and furthermore, what might that mean, and why is it important?
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #3: The Role of Perception in Interpreting One’s Circumstances in “The House of Mirth”
Lucy has failed in her efforts to transcend her social class, and seems to feel that there is no option left for her but to kill herself, a decision which gives her a strange sort of peace. Throughout the course of this novel, Lucy’s perceptions of her circumstances as either favorable or horrible exert great influence over the decisions she makes and the actions she takes. Are her circumstances really as bad as she perceives them to be. If so, why? If not, why? What other alternatives might have been available to her when her self-gentrification project failed?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Comparison Essay Idea: The House of Mirth and The Great Gatsby
It has been said that there are no new ideas. Noting the similarities between the novels The House of Mirth and The Great Gatsby, one might notice some shared themes, as well as similar settings, character traits and trajectories of development, and similar tragic endings. A comparative essay could take several different approaches: (1) Compare and contrast the novels, analyzing similarities and differences and remarking upon their significance; (2) Focus more tightly on a comparative analysis of two characters: Lily and Gatsby. Why are both striving to transcend their social status? Why do they both meet such tragic ends?; or, (3) Compare and contrast the settings in both novels. How does the backdrop of the novel influence its events and give them meaning?
This list of important quotations from “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes from Wharton’s “The House of Mirth” contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “The House of Mirth” text they are referring to.
“It was horrid of me to say that of Gerty,” she said with charming compunction. “I forgot she was your cousin. But we’re so different, you know: she likes being good, and I like being happy. And besides, she is free and I am not. If I were, I daresay I could manage to be happy even in her flat. It must be pure bliss to arrange the furniture just as one likes, and give all the horrors to the ash-man. If I could only do over my aunt’s drawing-room I know I should be a better woman.” (10)
“I wish I knew –I wish I could make you out. Of course I know there are men who don’t like me–one can tell that at a glance. And there are others’ who are afraid of me: they think I want to marry them.” She smiled up at him frankly. “But I don’t think you dislike me–and you can’t possibly think I want to marry you.” (11)
“Isn’t marriage your vocation? Isn’t it what you’re all brought up for?” (13)
“She remembered how her mother, after they had lost their money, used to say to her with a kind of fierce vindictiveness: “But you’ll get it all back–you’ll get it all back, with your face.” . . . The remembrance roused a whole train of association, and she lay in the darkness reconstructing the past out of which her present had grown.” (44)
“Her vulgar cares were at an end. She would be able to arrange her life as she pleased, to soar into that empyrean of security where creditors cannot penetrate. She would have smarter gowns than Judy Trenor, and far, far more jewels than Bertha Dorset. She would be free forever from the shifts, the expedients, the humiliations of the relatively poor. Instead of having to flatter, she would be flattered; instead of being grateful, she would receive thanks.” (77)
“These people whom she had ridiculed and yet envied were glad to make a place for her in the charmed circle about which all her desires revolved. They were not as brutal and self-engrossed as she had fancied–or rather, since it would no longer be necessary to flatter and humour them, that side of their nature became less conspicuous. Society is a revolving body which is apt to be judged according to its place in each man’s heaven; and at present it was turning its illuminated face to Lily.” (79)
“The New York winter had presented an interminable perspective of snow-burdened days, reaching toward a spring of raw sunshine and furious air, when the ugliness of things rasped the eye as the gritty wind ground into the skin.” (293)
“She had learned by experience that she had neither the aptitude nor the moral constancy to remake her life on new lines; to become a worker among workers, and let the world of luxury and pleasure sweep by her unregarded. She could not hold herself much to blame for this ineffectiveness, and she was perhaps less to blame than she believed. Inherited tendencies had combined with early training to make her the highly specialized product she was: an organism as helpless out of its narrow range as the sea-anemone torn from the rock.” (486).
“I must go…. But I may not see you again for a long time, and I wanted to tell you that I have never forgotten the things you said to me at Bellomont, and that sometimes–sometimes when I seemed farthest from remembering them–they have helped me, and kept me from mistakes; kept me from really becoming what many people have thought me.” (496)
“Strive as she would to put some order in her thoughts, the words would not come more clearly; yet she felt that she could not leave him without trying to make him understand that she had saved herself whole from the seeming ruin of her life.” (496-497)
Reference: Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1905.
The House of Mirth is written in third-person narration, largely but not exclusively from Lily Bart’s point of view. The narrator has a quick sense of irony, and irony pervades the work, both in its language and in the dramatic juxtapositions of its episodes. For example, the novel opens in New York’s Grand Central Station, with Lawrence Selden catching a glimpse of Lily. The narrator notes, “It was characteristic of her that she always roused speculation.” Wharton is playing ironically with all the meanings of the word “speculation.” Selden, like the reader, is speculating about what Lily Bart’s presence means at this moment. He is also, like the other men in the novel, speculating about her value and considering an investment. In a world in which money has such supreme importance, the concept of speculation introduces the range or ironies that the novel repeatedly brings into play.
The final irony may be that readers remain speculative about Lily Bart. The distant, sometimes witty narrator withholds clear judgment. Much of the critical response to the novel has focused on this question. How much is Lily to blame for her downfall? Is she a moral failure or a tragic heroine? Until her final weeks, she is consistently unable to choose between an immoral life of wealth and a rebellious life of morality and intellect, and the waffling costs her everything. Yet there is also some grandeur in her rise to moral superiority as she straightens out her affairs before her death, and critics have sometimes complained that the novel becomes positively sentimental in its closing pages.
One senses, however, that Lily is not fully to blame even for her worst lapses in vision: The choices available to her, as a woman, are few, and the chances to see beyond her world are nonexistent. As a woman in a rarified subculture, she has no opportunity to experience other ways of life and of thinking. Her failures, then, are also those of her culture.
It is a culture of speculation, in which money determines value and morality is confined to appearances. Wharton’s scathing critique of this social world did not make her well-loved in it, and it should not be surprising that after this novel’s immense success she chose to leave New York to live in Europe. Scarcely any...
(The entire section is 943 words.)