Thursday, April 15, 2010

Society vs "The Beast"

As I started reading The House of Mirth, my thoughts were focused mainly on Lily Bart's responses to situations, and I became interested in her personality, but towards the end of the novel, and after some class discussion, something that seemed more important to me came to mind. Rather than focusing on Lily Bart's character, I examined the social constraints that were placed on her, and the role that "society" in general took in the book. It occurred to me that Lily would have little to no problems if it weren't for society's rules and expectations of her as a lady, and how these severely hindered her choices as an individual.

Then I thought about McTeague, which portrays society as being the thing that keeps "the beast" within a person. Norris represents society as a sort of refining agent to people, protecting them from their natural impulses and such. After McTeague and Trina are brought into poverty, the "veneer of civilization" wears from the two and they participate in what appears to be almost primal instincts, on the verge of inhuman.

Once I noted the differences between these, it caught my interest that the two authors apparently thought about society in completely different ways, owing to what I'm not sure at this point, but I'd like to find out. So my paper will, rather than compare the characteristics of Lily Bart and Trina, attempt to make clear the differences between the portrayal of society, and possibly try to explain these differences.


  1. That could be an interesting topic, Matt.

  2. I look at it more as the suggestion of a defined spectrum, both far ends being destructive. Near the bottom, there is no civilization, the beast has no restraints, and destroys the individual. Near the top, the beast is beaten down, making it a whisper desperate to be heard, corrupting civilization completely, meaning it is civilization that destroys the individual. Either extreme is terrible. Unfortunately, naturalism offers no alternative to the destruction of the self by the beast, only the means of that destruction changing.