The Fruit of the Tree

by Edith Wharton

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493


Hanaford. Fictional New England community supported by Westmore, its industrial suburb. Home to the Westmore cotton mill, Hanaford is the home of the mill owners and managers. Factory money provides them with country houses, gardens, servants, and entertainments.


Westmore. Mill village containing shabby row houses for its workers and a company store. The Eldorado roadhouse, the one building which is actually kept up, is an additional source of income for the factory manager, who receives payment from the landlord. Readers see the sordidness through a reformer’s eyes when Amherst describes the run-down houses and poor inhabitants of Westmore. He calls attention to the isolation and deadness of this place.

Overshadowing the smaller buildings, the Westmore cotton mill looms over workers’ lives and landscape, its very size emblematic of its oppressiveness. The factory itself comprises noisy workrooms filled with oversized machinery. The rooms are crowded, dirty, and poorly ventilated. The brutal cacophony of the enclosed rooms contrasts vividly with the stillness of luxury.

Lynbrook house

Lynbrook house. Located in fictional Lynbrook, Bessy Westmore’s New York mansion is everything that Westmore is not. Descending gardens, terraces, tennis courts, and stables surround the grand house, all of which represent the factory owner’s luxurious life and provide a striking contrast to the impoverished landscape of the workers whose labor supports her upper-class lifestyle.

The big house has all the accoutrements associated with money: drawing rooms, windows with views of the countryside, objects d’art, soft rugs and oak paneling, gracious staircases, long dinner tables with candles and flowers, and servants to maintain the house and grounds. Edith Wharton focuses on more than the amenities of the house, however. She characterizes Lynbrook as indolent and narcissistic, filled with inhabitants whose only interest is the pursuit of their own pleasure. They have no energy for work but seek only diversions. Despite the beauty of the surroundings and the “finer graces of luxurious living,” the reader is left with no doubt about the contempt in which the author holds the residents and guests at Lynbrook.

*Adirondack Mountains

*Adirondack Mountains. Upstate New York mountain range in which Bessy vacations when Amherst’s mill improvements force a reduction in her expenditures. Using the real mountains to provide verisimilitude, Wharton invents a “woodland cure” for members of the upper class who wish to escape the city in summer but who, like Bessy, cannot afford a European tour.


Hopewood. Recreation center at Westmore that serves as an ironic finale to the novel. The center is built from blueprints drawn up for Bessy before her death. Whether or not he knows in his heart that the building was designed for Bessy’s own pleasure, Amherst declares that her final thoughts were for the factory operatives. The lavish gymnasium, bowling alley, pool, squash court, and marble fountains of Bessy’s original plans are redesigned on a smaller scale, with modest materials, and built for the entertainment of the mill workers.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 229

Ammons, Elizabeth. Edith Wharton’s Argument with America. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980. Comprehensive study of Wharton’s fiction with the focus on women. Reads the novel as an attack on patriarchal power.

Carlin, Deborah. “To Form a More Imperfect Union: Gender, Tradition, and the Text in Wharton’s The Fruit of the Tree.” In Edith Wharton: New Critical Essays, edited by Alfred Bendixen and Annette Zilversmit. New York: Garland, 1992. Analyzes Miltonic echoes and Edenic allusions. Describes the way in which Wharton uses marital incompatibility to examine various other irreconcilable social issues.

Goodwyn, Janet. Edith Wharton: Traveller in the Land of Letters. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Discusses Wharton’s use of specific landscapes and explores her consistent concerns with ideas of place. Argues that the number of contentious issues Wharton covers in the novel leads to a confusion of aim and direction.

Wershoven, Carol. The Female Intruder in the Novels of Edith Wharton. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982. Focuses on Wharton’s disruptive and often defiant heroines. Sees two intruders in the novel who link the work’s different subjects.

Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. A superb psychological study of Wharton’s life and artistic career. Perceives Justine’s need to find fulfillment as a woman as a core issue of the work.

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Critical Essays