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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Outside of constructing a fairly intense narrative between both women, Wharton's goal in "Roman Fever" is reflective of her goals seen in other examples of her writing.  One distinct goal that Wharton possesses is to show the emptiness intrinsic to upper class society.  A trademark of Wharton's writing is to display the "stifling conventions of upper-class New York" that often "trap its members."  This is representative of the relationship between Alida Slade and Grace Ansley.  While they seem to be good friends on the surface, something unsettling lurks beneath.  One of Wharton's goals is to explore this subterranean element and do so in a manner that renders useless the refined and elegant nature of high society.  

Another one of Wharton's goals is to display the human cruelty that exists between people. Wharton is very good at illuminating aspects of life within her characters that embody some of the worst tendencies within human beings. Characters who profess to embrace "high society" are responsible for some intense examples of cruelty.  One of Wharton's goals is to show how these individuals can be downright cruel to one another. Certainly, Alida and Grace display this to one another.  In their competitive drive for superiority over the other, some very mean- spirited tendencies emerge.  Alida feels inherently better than her "friend," Grace.  What she feels as a "joke" is actually quite cruel.  She was in competition with Grace when she was younger and this is what makes her write the note to mislead.  This level of cruelty is seen and raised one with the disclosure that she Grace really was with Delphin and Barbara is his daughter.  Even the ending in which Grace "began to move ahead of Mrs. Slade toward the stairway" reflects this condition of power.  Wharton's goal of revealing cruelty amongst individuals of "high society" is evident in the interplay between both "friends."  

Wharton wishes to bring out the power that underscores New York Society.  While the characters are seen as "museum specimens of old New York," the power element that exists between them does not change.  Even with the passage of time, Alida wishes to exert her own power over Grace, who in part holds the "ace card" that gives her power.  The new generation in the form of the daughters are never really seen in the story.  This becomes one of Wharton's goals in being able to show how the old, established culture of New York aristocracy is predicated upon power.  Wharton wishes to illuminate this condition throughout the narrative.  This power element is present in the descriptions that Wharton gives in how the women seen one another:  "the amusement of hearing in her wakes: "What, that handsome woman with the good clothes and the eyes is Mrs. Slade—the Slade's wife! Really! Generally the wives of celebrities are such frumps."  Wharton's goal is to illuminate how power in terms of how individuals see themselves and how others see them are of vital importance to those perceived as "New York's best."  Wharton was well aware of how this "class" of people acted.  Detailing this in "Roman Fever" becomes one of her goals.

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Roman Fever

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