The Age of Innocence

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The book The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton presents a glance into the society of old New York, as seen through the eyes of the main character, Newland Archer. Newland Archer’s character is an interesting one, and it seems to change throughout the story, representing the idea that the rules set by society aren’t always perfect. In the beginning it is said that he does what is expected, is fashionable, and follows the rules set by New York society in which he grew up. However, toward the end of the book, we see changes in his character, reflected in his suggestions or thoughts about doing things that people from the elite New York society wouldn’t consider. Newland Archers follows the rules that have been set to him by the elite New York Society. There are many references to the way that things are and aren’t done, and the importance he places on them. It is stated that “what was or was not ‘the thing’ played a part as important in Newland Archer’s New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago” (2). This belief in following the rules is also reflected in what Archer thinks of himself, his future wife, and the way he reacts to Countess Olenska’s presence. Archer is someone who is vain, has high self-esteem, a big ego, and believes he is superior. He states that he “felt himself distinctly superior of these chosen specimens of old New York gentility; he had probably read more, thought more, and even seen a good deal more of the world, than any other man of the number” (4).Archer believed that his wife should “develop a social tact and readiness of wit enabling her to hold her own with the most popular married women of the ‘younger set,’ in which it was the recog... ... middle of paper ... ...away, and he considers divorcing May so that he could marry Madame Olenska. Newland Archer is a very complex character. Although at first he seems to be the typical male in New York society, we soon see that through Madame Olenska’s influence, he changes the way that he sees the world that he grew up in. He begins to question the rules, routines, and patterns, and begins to understand topics that were once considered taboo and not talked about. Newland Archer seems to have many layers to his personality, and in a way May represents the proper, formal, and routine part of society that he knows so well, and Ellen seems to represent the part of his personality that wishes to be free of all rules and explore the world before him. Ultimately, fate seems to force him back into the rules of society in which he grew up in, showing a pattern that one can’t seem to escape.

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