In Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, elements of naturalism are used to show how the protagonist Lily Bart's life is controlled by her struggle between love and money. According to Encarta's electronic encyclopedia, "naturalistic writers regard human behavior as controlled by instinct, emotion, or social and economic conditions." Lily Bart is obviously controlled by economic conditions and emotion. She wants nothing more than to be accepted by the high society of New York. Although Lily was raised in an upper society family, she knows the only way for her to remain in that society is to marry a rich man. Even though she could marry her true love, Selden, she decides not to because he is not a rich man. Throughout the novel, Lily continues to struggle to belong to the New York high society by making herself appear to be rich by purchasing things she really cannot afford and by pushing away real love. Because of this struggle between love and money, Lily's position in society continually declines.
Lily Bart's entire life has been involved in New York's high society. All she has ever known is the life of butlers and maids and trips to Europe. Unfortunately, because Lily always received what she wanted whenever she wanted, she never learned to value of a dollar. Instead, she was taught by her mother the usefulness of being wealthy, or at least appearing to be wealthy. Lily learned that no matter how much it cost, being well dressed and having servants was the key to appearing rich and thus belonging to high society (30). Because of the way Lily's mother raises her, she believes that the only way a woman can be a member of New York's high society is to be prosperous, and the only way to become prosperous is to marry a rich man. Therefore, Lily's life begins with an inescapable struggle between love and money. .
Had her mother taught her the importance of loving the one you are married to instead of exploiting him for his money perhaps Lily's life would have turned out differently.