In her book “The House of Mirth”, Edith Wharton addresses several values that play an important role in the society of those days. One of the values, she discusses in detail and from different angles, is the value of responsibility to family and marriage. In the following paper, the influence of conspicuous consumption on the value of responsibility to family and marriage will be observed on the example of Wharton’s book, and modern-day examples.
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“The House of Mirth” shows the value of responsibility to family and marriage and the way it is affected by conspicuous consumption from different angles. First, the angle that presents the most interesting details is the position of the main heroine regarding marriage and family. Under the influence of her conspicuous consumption, Lily Bart begins to see the institution of family and marriage as a business field, where she may successfully sell herself as a luxurious commodity. For this reason, even though she is very attractive and has multiple connections and high status in society, she prefers to postpone her marriage until she finds a better variant. Lily is proposed by many young men and men of age as well, but she always thinks the candidate is not wealthy enough, and she rejects. A typical picture that Lily faces on a regular basis, as the readers follow the development of the story plot can be seen in the following quote. “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. No – I absolve you of that, he agreed” (Wharton 58). This quote shows Lily’s prejudiced and ironic attitude to men, whom she considers to be not rich enough to propose to her. Nowadays, beautiful women, such as Lily Bart, continue sharing the same outlook on the value of responsibility to family and marriage. They are interested in this institution as far as it offers them a chance to prosper economically, and occupy a well-respected position in society.
Viewing the influence of conspicuous consumption on the value of responsibility to family and marriage from the other angles, more changes in modern society can be identified. In this vein, people of business, the so-called “careerists” or “climbers”, prefer avoiding marriage or postponing it to times when they might feel secure financially and socially. Such people believe that today, marriage and even serious relationships have lost their attractiveness. This is so because of the change of the other values, connected with them including real love, mutual emotional support, mutual trust, family loyalty, and the need to raise children by both parents together. People of this type believe that children can be raised by single mothers, and serious relations are not necessary for satisfaction and happiness as love can be bought for one night. Also, because there is a crisis of rewarding relationships in marriage, which is explained by modern conditions in the world, such people think that there exists no reason to enter marriage and build up a family.
The other characters in the novel by Wharton still maintain their traditional view on marriage and family. Most women and men in the community try their best to find a suitable candidate for them to create a family and have children. Moreover, the society of those days has a condemning position regarding people, who stay unmarried. Especially women face a negative attitude and are called “old maids” if they are unmarried. This is very different from the general idea of marriage and family in western society, which exists today, because being single is no longer a reproach for a woman even from the point of view of people, who do not engage in business, and for a man being unmarried for a long period or even during his entire life is the standard.
As a final point, it should be stated that the impact of conspicuous consumption on different values in human society is a phenomenon that becomes more and more important today. Observing the influence of conspicuous consumption on the value of responsibility to family and marriage on the example of Edith Wharton’s novel “The House of Mirth”, and on the example of modern-day western society, one may conclude that the state of affairs is getting more complicated. This is explained by the fact that nowadays, just like Lily Bart, the main heroine from Wharton’s book, people begin to have a more and more cynical and prejudiced view on marriage. In particular, the majority of them tend to think that marriage is only good as a way to improve one’s financial and social situation. Also, they consider marriage the social institution that has lost its appeal due to the situation in the modern-day world, where such values as real love, mutual emotional support, mutual trust, family loyalty, and the need to raise children by both parents together are no longer important.
Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth, New York: Dover Publications, 2002. Print.