Relationships in Wharton's The Age of Innocence

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Newland Archer desires to be a free soul in old New York, differing from those around him. May Welland’s actions and naivety help Newland realize he wants to break away from the norm of society. Ellen Olenska arrives in New York to stay with family during her divorce with a Polish Count. Ellen and Newland are formally introduced by May, beginning Ellen and Newland’s odious relationship. Ellen offers a fresh change to Newland’s monotonous lifestyle; she shows Newland the excitement of going against the moral code. After Ellen’s arrival, Newland briefly believes he wants to be with someone who is not like women from New York, and when given the chance to be with Ellen, Newland turns it down, showing he is truly an old-fashioned man at heart. Newland loathes the monotonous conversations with May and repetitiveness of his job. Newland respects and loves May with all his heart, but when she begins to call him original, Newland realizes she was always “going to say the right thing” (Age of Innocence 22) because she was simply giving the replies “instinct and tradition” have taught her (Age of Innocence 72). Cynthia Griffin Wolff, in her article entitled “Edith Wharton”, declares that the small world of New York was “suffocating” and “stifled spontaneous expressions of emotion” (3). Also, Newland lived in a kind of “hieroglyphic world” where what someone actually wanted to say was never said or thought, but just “represented by a set of arbitrary signs” (Age of Innocence 40). While listening to his mother and sister gossip about Ellen, Newland begins to realize women should be able to do anything they please, meaning they should be able to speak their minds. Mrs. Archer and her daughter discuss the upcoming divorce of Ellen, hopeful... ... middle of paper ... ...and because once before she asked Newland to give up “the thing [he] most wanted”: Ellen (Age of Innocence 302). When it comes time to see Ellen, Newland stays on the street, feeling that it would be more real there “than if [he] went up” (Age of Innocence 306). Newland watched Ellen’s room while sitting on a bench, then, a moment later, a servant came and “drew up the awnings, and closed the shutters” and as if it were the signal Newland had waited for, he “got up slowly and walked back alone to his hotel” (Age of Innocence 307). It was as if the drawing of the awnings and the closing of the shutters was a sense of closure to Newland. The Age of Innocence could be classified as a Bildungsroman because in the novel, Newland Archer grows from “adolescence to manhood” (“Edith Wharton” 14). Newland Archer is simply a follower at heart despite what he thinks or does.
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