The Role Of Social Darwinism In Edith Wharton's House Of Mirth

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Written in 1905, Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth depicts the decline of Lily Bart. The storyline focuses on New York’s financially elite members of society and Bart’s struggle to be a part of them. Grouped amongst “old money”, Lily has the attitude and mannerisms needed to reserve herself a place, however, her actions within this elite group lead to her inevitable decline and tragic death. Instead of placing sole blame on Lily herself, readers of Wharton’s novel can point to her surroundings, environment, time era, and situations as proper justification for her downfall. Miss Bart was raised to become a wife and keep social tabs on her financially stable husband. As a product of her environment, Lily is consistently a victim throughout the novel and all of her actions work against her; she is not suited with the vital aptitudes needed to get by within her surroundings.…show more content…
As most people have heard of Charles Darwin’s ideology of natural selection, (a cheetah having the speed to catch its prey), Darwin’s concept is in a sense, strictly biological. Herbert Spencer, a mid-1800’s sociologist, expanded on this ideology and applied it to social settings. In fact, it was him, not Darwin, who coined the term “survival of the fittest”. In short, he stated that only the most strong and socially adept human beings should survive, causing the weak to die out. Spencer believed that it was natural that the strong survived at the cost of the weak (Johnson). In The House of Mirth, the characters directly play on this concept. The “strong”, such as Bertha Dorset, is suited to her environment and “survives” at the cost of the weak. A prime example of this is the yacht scene where Dorset uses Lily to have her affair with Ned Silverton (page number). Simply, Lily Bart is maladapted to the social climate of her time, causing her to eventually “die

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