The Custom of the Country: Climbing the Gilded Ladder: Undine Spragg's Ruthless Ascent and the Price of American Ambition - Edith Wharton

American literature essay. Literary analysis of works and characters - Sykalo Evgen 2023

The Custom of the Country: Climbing the Gilded Ladder: Undine Spragg's Ruthless Ascent and the Price of American Ambition
Edith Wharton

A biting examination of the American Gilded Age, Edith Wharton's "The Custom of the Country" portrays the vicious chase of wealth and social prestige. The intriguing figure of Undine Spragg, a woman consumed by uncontrolled ambition, lies at the center of this story. Wharton uses Undine's ascent through the social ladder as a prism to criticize American ambition gone too far in an era when monetary success frequently came at a high moral cost.

Spragg's Ambition, Undine:

Undine Spragg is revealed as a multifaceted and captivating figure who personifies the unwavering quest for career advancement. Undine, who was raised in the Midwest, meets the elite world of New York through her union with Ralph Marvell. But her unquenchable ambition drives her to autonomously negotiate the complex social network of the Gilded Age. Undine wants to become a member of the elite and enjoy the perks and luxury of the highest social classes. Her goals go beyond just becoming wealthy.

Stubborn Ascent and Social Criticism:

Undine's rise is characterized by a callous disdain for established relationships and ideals. She exhibits a frightening lack of moral foundation when she discards marriages and alliances that no longer support her upward trajectory. Wharton uses Undine's persona to attack the amorality and callousness that characterized this era's quest of money. The transactional nature of Undine's relationships illustrates how sincere human connections are being undermined by materialistic aspirations.

The Gilded Ladder's Drawbacks:

The way in which Wharton depicts Undine's climb up the "gilded ladder" serves as a warning. Her ambitions have taken a deep toll on her personal and ethical standards, hidden behind the glittering façade of wealth and social prominence. Undine's unrelenting drive shatters lives and shatters relationships in her wake, highlighting the terrible price of achievement in a materialistic culture. Wharton asks readers to consider the cost of people's unwavering pursuit of the American Dream via the lens of Undine's character.

The Tragic Flaw in Undine:

Undine's terrible weakness is her incapacity to find happiness in anything other than monetary achievement. She has attained the social status she wants, but she is still unhappy and dissatisfied. Undine's persona lacks depth, which emphasizes Wharton's criticism of a culture that prioritizes outward success indicators above the more profound and significant facets of existence.

In summary:

"The Custom of the Country" is a potent literary critique of the Gilded Age that highlights the moral emptiness that results from pursuing unchecked ambition via the lens of Undine Spragg's persona. Readers are prompted by Wharton's writing to consider the principles of society that place riches and prestige above morality and compassion. The brutal ascension of Undine to the top of the opulent ladder serves as a sobering warning of the long-lasting effects of unbridled ambition in the chase of the American Dream.