Location

Room 223, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Start Date

April 2016

End Date

April 2016

Keywords

feminism, modernism, intersectional, literature, gender, roles, masquerade, performance, death, liberation

Abstract

Edith Wharton and Nella Larsen’s literature focus on metaphorically representing gender oppression and repression as masked social performances that result in death being the ultimate release from the drama. Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth depicts the heroine Lily Bart who, in the public social realm, attempts to mask herself as a disturbingly superficial character. Wharton’s masquerade imagery demonstrates the extent to which Lily socially capitalizes her beauty. Lily fixates on "clearness" and "lucidity" in events leading up to her death, which shows how dying releases her from the dishonest social masquerade (260). Nella Larsen’s heroine Irene Redfield similarly uses her appearance, in her case racial ambiguity, to “pass” as “an Italian, a Spaniard, a Mexican, or a gipsy” when in public (8). This idea of “passing” applies not only to race, but also to gender since Irene defines traditional womanhood as a burden. Irene views her gender as one that bears enough distress to not warrant having to “suffer” as a black individual as well (78). The term “passing” may also refer to Clare Kendry passing away, which frees her and Irene from the burden and influence of her mask of traditionally white femininity. Irene, Clare, and Lily use masks as a part of their social feminine performance whilst suffering from, and eventually seeking release via death from, the duality of demands womanhood places on an individual: those of the personal versus the private social spheres, and how to navigate both whilst not losing a sense of self.

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Apr 2nd, 9:00 AM Apr 2nd, 10:15 AM

Masks and Performance as Representations of Gender Oppression and Repression in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Nella Larsen’s Passing

Room 223, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Edith Wharton and Nella Larsen’s literature focus on metaphorically representing gender oppression and repression as masked social performances that result in death being the ultimate release from the drama. Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth depicts the heroine Lily Bart who, in the public social realm, attempts to mask herself as a disturbingly superficial character. Wharton’s masquerade imagery demonstrates the extent to which Lily socially capitalizes her beauty. Lily fixates on "clearness" and "lucidity" in events leading up to her death, which shows how dying releases her from the dishonest social masquerade (260). Nella Larsen’s heroine Irene Redfield similarly uses her appearance, in her case racial ambiguity, to “pass” as “an Italian, a Spaniard, a Mexican, or a gipsy” when in public (8). This idea of “passing” applies not only to race, but also to gender since Irene defines traditional womanhood as a burden. Irene views her gender as one that bears enough distress to not warrant having to “suffer” as a black individual as well (78). The term “passing” may also refer to Clare Kendry passing away, which frees her and Irene from the burden and influence of her mask of traditionally white femininity. Irene, Clare, and Lily use masks as a part of their social feminine performance whilst suffering from, and eventually seeking release via death from, the duality of demands womanhood places on an individual: those of the personal versus the private social spheres, and how to navigate both whilst not losing a sense of self.