The Personalities of May and Ellen Illustrated in the Novel The Age of Innocence

The Personalities of May and Ellen Illustrated in the Novel The Age of Innocence

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In the novel, “The Age of Innocence” two of the main characters come to be introduced in the first chapter where they are seen at the Opera house. Newland Archer, a well respected lawyer of New York looks across from his box seat to see his newly engaged fiancée May Welland. Sitting next to her, he sees May’s mother and aunt. Next to them he sees a woman who is familiar to him-she is May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska. These two women play important roles throughout the whole novel. There are two different personality types which are displayed in both May and Ellen.
May can be described as the perfect woman to marry around that time period. May is thought to be pure and innocent by everyone around her and she keeps up this appearance for the rest of her life. She fit right in with New York society- always knowing exactly what to say at the right time: “Evidently she was always going to understand; she was always going to say the right thing” (Wharton, 20). She knew how to act in parties and how accomplish a good social standing with the rest of society. Archer decides to marry her at first because she would look like the best fit and thus he could move through society-marrying a perfectly normal girl who was very pretty and was raised by honorable parents. May is like a carefully finished product of this New York society. She was learned to be a good wife and mother in her future life.
May is also concerned to always do the right thing. Before anything, obedience to her mother is very important in most situations. One main example would be when Archer had pushed her for a quicker engagement; however May resisted due to the fact that her mother had wanted a long engagement: “It was the traditional maidenly interrogation, and he fel...


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...r past drama between her husband and herself. Contemplating divorce, she was a marked woman right away in New York Society. Whether it is her demeanor or dress, everything about Ellen was different from the other women. “’We must always bear in mind what an eccentric bringing-up Medora Manson gave her. What can you expect of a girl who was allowed to wear black satin at her coming-out ball?’” (Wharton, 33) Ellen had a very different upbringing than the rest of the girls in New York. She was rather free-spirited, allowed to do things that were different and radical through the eyes of the other players of society. In this quote, its mentions her wearing black satin at her coming-out ball- which probably means that she was very different from a young girl. Wearing black satin at her coming-out ball was very different and something that everyone would remember always.

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