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The House of Mirth & The Invisible Man

The American dream is something often presented in fiction as a distortion and an illusion, as something individuals strive for either in the wrong fashion or in a futile attempt to gain something withheld from them. It is seen in both The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as something that only comes to certain classes in society while it is held out as an unattainable ideal to the masses. In the Wharton novel, there are certain clear paths to achieve this dream, at least as far as the heroine is concerned, and marriage is the path she sees as most viable for her. In the Ellison novel, it is a dream that has little meaning to the black population, standing simply as another promise unfulfilled.

In the Wharton novel, though, the idea of the American dream is tightly bound with money, and money is a determinant of social class in America much more than is birth. For Lily Bart, the American Dream would be to have both money and position, and if she has to sacrifice the man she really loves to reach this goal, she will. Selden is that man, and the American Dream is a distant and unreal goal for him as well.

Lily's dream is actually a form of the American Dream, which is the expression of American optimism that the future can always be better, that success is possible through the application of individual effort and ability, and that one is not bound by birth to a particular social class, economic position, or role in life. Lily is also a distortion of that dream in that she is not succeeding on her own but through whatever male she can marry, and her success is measured entirely in monetary terms. Ultimately that dream is still denied her. Selden is the man she really loves. The American Dream is denied him because he does not have the money he needs to get Lily to marry him and because he is an artist who is considered a failure by the measures of the business world. He is indulged b...

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The House of Mirth & The Invisible Man. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:13, August 07, 2020, from