Tragedy And Symbolism In Edith Whartons Writing

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Tragedy And Symbolism In Edith Whartons Writing Essay, Research Paper English 11 April 12, 1999 The Use of Tragedy and Symbolism in Edith Wharton?s Writing Edith Wharton uses symbolism and the many aspects of tragedy of human life as major elements of her writing. She uses different forms of tragedy in her writing. Marriage, society, and other elements all contribute to a theme of imprisonment. Symbolism also creates a mood of disappointment in much of her work. Edith Wharton uses many aspects of tragedy in her writing. Imprisonment and confinement are just two ways that tragedy is portrayed in her writings (Walton 63). Society is a major form of imprisonment. In many of her novels, society is what limits her characters to a world of lost hopes and dreams. Wharton frequently

describes upper-class life to be lonely and bitter (Fracasso 44). Edmund Wilson wrote, ?She combines with indignation against a specific phase of American society a general sense of inexorable doom for human beings,? (Howe 17). Society completely controls the characters in The House of Mirth. It is a novel about the victims of rival classes that were not strong enough to play the game as it should be played (Howe 35). The game should be played roughly and without mercy. It is unaccepted for a person to drop out of society. One must endure and smile properly till the game is over (Howe 38). ?Old New York? is shown as a place of betrayal and failure. Lily Bart has no money; therefore, she is confined to a life of failure (Unger 312). Money is what makes or breaks people in society.

Edith Wharton tries to show through Lily that society has power to destroy those even with character (McDowell 52). It is ironic that a world that could make Lily Bart so beautiful could also make her life so limited. In The Custom of the Country, Undine Spragg does not have the social background to live as she wants to live. She uses sex to compensate for her lack of wealth, charm, education, and social background (Auchincloss 105). Undine is also divorced which makes her looked down upon in high society. In Ethan Frome, poverty controls Ethan?s life. It restricts him to a life of limited possibilities (Springer 10). However, not all of Edith Wharton?s novels are given the attitude that society is restrictive. The Fruit of the Tree proves this statement. Another form of

imprisonment in Edith Wharton?s novels is the vow of marriage. In several novels, one character must take responsibility for another, limiting this person?s ability (McDowell 64). This is very apparent in Ethan Frome. In most of her novels the characters are happy in the beginning. However, they find themselves trapped in a situation that is his or her fault. Thomas Hardy?s Jude the Obscure and Wharton?s Ethan Frome are very similar. Both major characters give up school to help with their mothers. Both major characters are imprisoned in marriages that occur out of desperation and loneliness, and both major characters meet better women that they can not have (Springer 43). Grace Kellogg said this about relationships based on desperation: The inability of humans to achieve

self-sufficiency drives them to seek relationships with other people, and these relationships necessarily compromise their freedom by subjecting them to the pain of a desire either too great or too small. (16) However, in The House of Mirth Lily Bart refuses a marriage proposal to remain free (Walton 56). Lily does not fall victim to the phase ?too late? as many other characters do (Fracasso 21). Many characters marry for security, social position, or money. They do not marry for the right reason ? love. When a person is involved in a marriage for the wrong reasons, it can sometimes be best described as a prison. In Glimpses of the Moon, Susy must endure ?a long period of probation? to hold her marriage together (Kellogg 266). Mrs. Welland in The Age of Innocence has to find her