Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones and why?
My sympathy goes to Lily. She is the innocent victim of the society determination which dictates how women should live, and beyond that, they would be crushed. Lily becomes what she is now, because she was born in that society, and was brought up by her mother with one determination: not to be poor, because poorness is disgusted; to love luxury; and to achieve it she must attract a rich man to marry her. Lily Bart’s small world contains of politics and business, money and power. You have it, you win; you lack of it, you lost. How can an orphan, inexperienced girl like Lily could have survived in the world like that?
Does the writer technique give you a clue as to her “argument”—her take on the human condition?
If using nature objects can be called ‘technique’, I think Wharton, as a Naturalist, argues that human is shaped by how he is brought up: environment, education, society, culture. It would be difficult to adapt with another different ‘habitat’; just as animals could not survive, and might even extinct, when they are plugged onto different habitat. There might be few who can survive, but cubs would need their mother to guide and protect them. In this story, sadly, Lily does not have anyone to guide her.
What exactly is the writer telling you?
Wharton wants to criticize the injustice practiced by the society upon women; they restricted women’s movement by prejudices. She also pointed out their hypocrisy. Married women (and men) could do anything immoral as long as they were protected by money and marriage institution; whereas single women would be banished forever if they ever had scandal, no matter whether they were really guilty or not. They were guided by the power of money and fame, but ignored morality.
In what sense is the book true?
Some of the problems in this book exist today in our modern world; the hypocrisy, the power of money and fame which become magnet for many people; that true friendship begins to be mere concept. However, nowadays women have more influence than before, and their place is almost equal—almost!—with men’s.