The Age of Innocence is a beautifully written novel by Edith Wharton, which explores the social conventions and expectations of high society in New York during the 1870s. The novel’s protagonist, Newland Archer, is engaged to marry May Welland, a woman from his own social class. However, when he meets May’s cousin, the unconventional and free-spirited Ellen Olenska, he begins to question the values and assumptions of the world in which he lives. Ultimately, he is unable to break free from the constraints of his society and chooses to marry May, despite his love for Ellen.
Exploration of Social Conventions and Expectations
One of the main themes of The Age of Innocence is the exploration of social conventions and expectations. Wharton portrays a society that is rigidly stratified and bound by conventions, and shows the difficulties faced by those who attempt to break free from these constraints. The novel highlights the strict codes of behavior and etiquette that govern the lives of the wealthy elite in New York, and the consequences of violating these codes. Newland Archer is acutely aware of the rules of his society, and the consequences of breaking them. He struggles to reconcile his own desires with the expectations of his class, and ultimately chooses to conform rather than to risk his reputation and social standing.
The Portrayal of Women in Society
Another key theme of the novel is the portrayal of women in society. Wharton presents a society in which women are expect to conform to strict codes of behavior and to sacrifice their own desires and ambitions for the sake of their families and their social standing. May Welland is the epitome of the ideal woman in this society, obedient and submissive, with no desire to break free from the constraints of her class. Ellen Olenska, on the other hand, is see as a threat to the social order because of her independence and nonconformity. Wharton uses Ellen’s character to explore the limitations placed on women in this society, and the consequences of defying these limitations.
Nostalgia for a Lost World
The Age of Innocence is also a powerful meditation on the passing of an era, on the loss of innocence that accompanies the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The novel portrays a world that is on the cusp of a transformation, with the old order giving way to the new. Wharton’s portrayal of New York society in the 1870s is a nostalgic evocation of a bygone era, and a poignant reminder of the price that must be pay for progress and change. The novel’s ending, with Newland Archer looking back on his life and the choices he has made, is a powerful evocation of the passage of time and the sense of loss that accompanies it.
Character Development and Relationships
Wharton’s skill as a writer is evident in her portrayal of the characters in The Age of Innocence. Newland Archer is a complex and nuanced character, torn between his desire for freedom and his sense of duty and responsibility to his family and his class. May Welland is similarly complex, with hidden depths and a fierce determination to protect her social standing. Ellen Olenska is perhaps the most interesting character in the novel, a woman who defies the conventions of her class and refuses to be constrain by the expectations place on her. Wharton’s portrayal of the relationships between these characters is also masterful, with a subtle interplay of desire, duty, and social expectations that drives the plot forward.
Overall, The Age of Innocence is a beautifully written novel that explores the themes of social conventions, the portrayal of women in society, nostalgia for a lost world, and character development and relationships. Wharton’s skill as a writer is evident in her evocation of New York