After reading the article for the précis assignment this week, it made me see that rather than just being a tragic ending to this novel, Lily’s death could be symbolic of a number of things. Like the article suggested, it could represent the death of the lady. In the 20th century this lady of leisure had to die in order to make way for the new working woman. In order for modern women like Nettie and Gerty Farish to grow and flourish, women like Lily could not exist anymore. For Wharton personally it represented a transition into a new type of fiction, this book was a turning point in her life as a writer. It may also have represented Wharton’s longing to escape the lady’s world she felt so trapped in. Writing this death and dramatic exit from society could have been Wharton’s way of expressing her secret desires.
Whether it was an accident or suicide, Lily’s death appears to suggest that the only escape for women in this society, who could not find a suitable husband or money, was death. Without a wealthy husband or good standing in society, she had little hope of surviving on her own, or of somehow working her way back up the social ladder. Or maybe this was just the way Lily viewed her world.
The symbolism of Lily’s hallucination before her death has also led to a number of different interpretations. To some this scene is regressive, and to some it is hopeful. Some suggest that is symbolizes her retreat to the safety of infancy, she wanted to escape the pressures and difficulties of adulthood. Others argue it represents hope, holding the baby symbolizes the future Lily could have had, as she realizes she could have been happy with Selden. After seeing Nettie’s life and happiness, Lily may finally have begun to understand that money is not needed to find happiness. Showalter argues that this was Lily’s awakening, as she began to see how Nettie’s life could be fulfilling.