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Naturalism in The House of Mirth

Naturalism in The House of Mirth

Challenging the strict deterministic confines of literary naturalism, which hold that “the human being is merely one phenomenon in a universe of material phenomena” (Gerard 418), Edith Wharton creates in The House of Mirth a novel which irrefutably presents the human creature as being subject to a naturalistic fate but which conveys a looming sense of hope that one may triumph over environment and circumstance if one possesses a certain strength of will or a simple faith in human possibility.

Because of Wharton’s slight deviation from naturalistic conventions, a literary debate exists among critics as to the validity of viewing The House of Mirth as a novel which embodies naturalism. Some arguments contend that naturalism does not play a vital role in the novel because of the fact that such a significant internal conflict belies itself within the divided being of Lily Bart and because Wharton focuses so intensely on this conflict, a discord which seems opposed to the naturalistic idea of inevitability (Gerard, 4 1 0). Indeed, Wharton’s works are not as critically concerned with naturalistic themes as are the works of London, Drieser, or Zola.

However, it is clear that undertones of naturalism, and stronger overtones in many situations, are present throughout The House of Mirth. Wharton creates characters who are victims of their environment, controlled by animal-like instinct. Evidence of this is found from the very first page, when Lawrence Selden succumbs to an “impulse of curiosity” (6), to the very last page, when Selden realizes that Lily had “reached out to him in every struggle against the influence of her surroundings (255-56). By creating a protagon…

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…sting that the human creature also gains strength and derives meaning from its hope, desire, and faith, thus engendering the triumph of the human spirit.

Works Cited

Benstock, Shari. Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth. Complete, Authoritative Text with Biog.

Essay on Manipulation through Language in The Memorandum

Manipulation through Language in The Memorandum

How one utilizes language to perpetuate certain images or perspectives can greatly influence the way people think. One can use language to manipulate the minds of others and bring them under some form of subjugation. In Vaclav Havel’s The Memorandum certain characters use this tactic of manipulation through different means that involve language, and in the process, they gain the authority or recognition they are seeking. Ballas promotes the new creation of the synthetic language, Ptydepe, which reduces humans by mechanizing them for the purpose of a more scientific and efficient system of communication. The language is created so that people will show no emotions or flaws when speaking. This system is analogous to the bureaucracy, which also implements its linguistic power to establish and maintain order in every aspect of The Memorandum’s society. Havel illustrates how language is intrinsically omnipotent by exemplifying the drastic effects it can have on people’s rationality. The characters in the play who use language to their advantage gain power, and those who allow language to control them become victims of the cyclic struggle to systematize humanity.

Ballas is one person who uses language to manipulate and abate people, thereby exercising his power. Although subordinate to Gross by title in the beginning of the play, Ballas manages to finesse Gross into signing the supplementary order for the official introduction of Ptydepe, even though Gross is in opposition to the idea of an artificial language. He uses public opinion over the rubber stamp affair to manipulate Gross into submitting to his demands. Ballas strategically attempts to tell Gross what he be…

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… also lapse into self-alienation, unable to identify with who they are as humans. The characters in the play have become so involved in a systematic way of living that they keep a knife and fork in their office drawers that they take with them everyday to lunch “in a solemn, funeral-like procession” (2.12). As long as people allow this oppression of humanity, the circle of power will never cease. In the play, although Ptydepe was eventually condemned as a failure, instead of ridding the organization of the system, Ballas implemented a new method of communication, Chorukor. Just as the play ends as it begins, the system that controls people’s actions and thoughts will remain intact until a greater power can control the system.


Havel, Vaclav. The Memorandum in The Garden Party and Other Plays. Trans. Vera Blackwell. New York: Grove Press, 1993.

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