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The House of Mirth: Metaphors

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Chloral

Ostensibly, this helps Lily to sleep, but figuratively it allows her to escape the increasingly dowdy circumstances of her life. By raising the dose, and going against the advice of the chemist, she dies and because she knew of this risk it is possible to see both the gambler in her and the chance that this was an unconscious suicide.  

 

Gilt cage

At Bellomont, Lily compares Selden to Gryce and she notices how Selden is still able to find his way out of the ‘great gilt cage’ that the others are captive in. This is an apt metaphor for the elite society to which Lily chooses to belong and from which is later ousted. The gilt represents the shiny but superficial values of her set and the reference to the cage demonstrates how although apparently attractive, this way of life is a form of prison.

 

Lily’s bracelet

Selden regards this bracelet as symbolizing how she is chained to her upbringing and this may be related to the metaphor of the gilt cage. He sees that she is tied to her childhood that valued wealth and appearance over human relationships (most notably love) and is a victim of the circumstances that she has been taught to revere.

 

Stock market

The buying and selling of stock may be compared to the marketing of female sexuality. It is not so ironic that Trenor claims Lily once he has paid her with the supposed winnings from his speculations. The language of risks and devalued stock may also be related to Lily and her attempt to secure a rich husband before her looks and popularity fade. She is another commodity in this vanity fair and once her price falls she becomes worthless to those in her elite group.

 

The winged furies

When Lily realizes Trenor has made her indebted to him, the symbol of winged furies is drawn upon to describe her mounting panic. These also represent the gossips who will feed off this news once it becomes more widely known, and finally take the shape of Bertha pursuing her.




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