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The final irony may be that readers remain speculative about Lily Bart.The distant, sometimes witty narrator withholds clear judgment. Until her final weeks, she is consistently unable to choose between an immoral life of wealth and a rebellious life of morality and intellect, and the waffling costs her everything.
For example, the novel opens in New York’s Grand Central Station, with Lawrence Selden catching a glimpse of Lily.
The narrator notes, “It was characteristic of her that she always roused speculation.” Wharton is playing ironically with all the meanings of the word “speculation.” Selden, like the reader, is speculating about what Lily Bart’s presence means at this moment.
The hypocrisy about sexuality and promiscuity is most evident when one notes that Selden is never castigated for his earlier adulterous affair with Bertha.
It is only the women that are potential targets for gossip and ostracism and this in turn depends on the position of power the woman in question has.
Lily is clearly used as a scapegoat by not only Bertha, but also her set as they unite against her to reinforce the rules of acceptable behavior.
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It is ironic that Lily is still a virgin by the end of the novel and has been ousted for only the suggestion of her having had sexual relations.
Describe Lily and make references to her background, ambitions and personal values.
Lily’s childhood is described as opulent, but this comes to an end when her father tells her and her mother that they are ruined.
This use of the woman as scapegoat is also a way of warning others to behave as the group decides and is drawn from a centuries old patriarchal code that deems female sexuality to be dangerous and unnatural. Consider the ways the subject of equality between the sexes is negotiated.
Lily has a mantra that consists of her railing against the unfairness of life for the poor marriageable girl.