The Age of Innocence Essay

1145 Words 5 Pages
During the 1870’s, Old timey New York modeled a much different atmosphere than Europe, which was still recovering from war. The way that author Edith Wharton viewed the society around her was one of expectations. There were expectations for men and for women. For the most part, these expectancies were unspoken rules on manners, dress attire, good company, and any other detail regarding one’s appearance to others. However, because of social determinism, Americans were not as “free” as they believed. The Age of Innocence presents a representation of the constant social trap that forced people to mask their true feelings because of the ever-imposing desire to always seem at their best. One of the main subjects of the story is the lack of …show more content…
Wharton interweaves these characters together with the underlying theme of the constant pressure to adhere to their societal expectations. There is an essence about New York in which “its rituals merge past, present, and future, creating a cultural refuge built on habit memory” (Kilmasmith, 562-563). This concept of “saving face” and always appearing moral has been around for so long and therefore, people continue to practice it. The basis of the storyline is the scandalous relationship Archer possesses with Ellen while committed to May, which causes him to question this “habit memory” of his surroundings. Through his relations with Ellen, the young lawyer is exposed also to a personality very different than what typical high society New York has to offer. The Countess is very different than most of the other upper class women in Old New York. Wharton compares and contrasts Ellen, a woman who does not desire to mask her true identity, and May, a woman who is shaped by society to mask her identity. As Newland gets to know Ellen and enters into an affair, “his desire for her becomes the lens through which he ‘tries on’ a new view of Old New York’s social codes” (Jessee, 41). Ellen really seems to think for herself and is much
Cannedy 3 more outspoken and vulgar than what Newland is accustomed to in his surroundings. This causes him to compare Ellen and May, however the way in which he does this is

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