Xingu by Edith Wharton
is a satirical short story by Edith Wharton that offers a witty commentary on the intellectual and social elite of early 20th-century America. Published in 1916, the story takes place during a gathering of the exclusive women’s literary club Xingu, whose members pride themselves on their intellectual prowess and cultural refinement. The story is a biting critique of the group’s pretensions and superficiality, as well as a celebration of the power of literature to expose the shallowness of social hierarchy.
The narrative centers on the character of Mrs. Ballinger, a wealthy and influential society figure who sees herself as the arbiter of good taste and culture. When she is invited to join Xingu, she eagerly accepts, seeing it as an opportunity to showcase her intellectual prowess and social standing. However, Mrs. Ballinger quickly realizes that the other members of the club are not as erudite or cultured as she had assumed, and she is forced to confront her own ignorance and prejudices.
As the story unfolds, Wharton uses her sharp wit and incisive observations to lampoon the members of Xingu and their narrow-mindedness. She skewers their pretensions and exposes their shallow understanding of literature and culture, highlighting the limitations of their social class and the narrowness of their intellectual horizons. Despite this, however, Wharton is not entirely dismissive of the Xingu club, and the story ends on a note of ambiguity, suggesting that there may be some value in the group’s attempts to cultivate intellectual and cultural pursuits.
In addition to its biting satire and commentary on social and intellectual hierarchy, Xingu is notable for its exploration of gender roles and women’s place in society. Wharton portrays the women of Xingu as intelligent and independent thinkers, but also as constrained by the limitations of their social class and the expectations placed on them by society. The story is thus both a critique of the narrowness of women’s opportunities in early 20th-century America and a celebration of their intelligence and potential.
Overall, Xingu is a brilliant and entertaining short story that offers a sharp critique of the social and intellectual elite of its time. Wharton’s witty prose and incisive observations make for a compelling read, and her exploration of gender roles and women’s empowerment remains relevant today.