Compare characterisation in the Age of Innocence and Poor Things

Essay by sarinder March 2004

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I shall be looking at Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, published in 1920, and Poor Things by Alasdair Gray, published in 1992. Below is a brief synopsis of Age of Innocence; Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland, but when Countess Ellen Olenska comes back from a disastrous marriage, Archer and Olenska are attracted to one another, and by the code of conduct of New York society Archer decides to end this love affair with Ellen and goes back to May.

A brief outline of Poor Things is about Godwin Baxter giving life to a woman (Bella) with a child's brain, after she committed suicide while she is pregnant. Bella is then introduced to Archie McCandless, whom she is later engaged to. McCandles is a student along side Godwin at school. Bella then runs away with Duncan Wedderburn, a lawyer. Then Bella returns and marries McCandless, however her family previous to her attepmpt at suicide try to claim, but she denies knowing them.

However, at the end we find this story to be false when the wife of McCandles reveals the true life that he had him.

In this essay I plan to illustrate the differences and similarities of characterisation between both books, by way of class and how they act to the values within the novel, and how the characters interact with on another.

In Age of Innocence, the characters are set in a historical period compared to when the novel was written. The characters represent the close community of New York, and how they abide by the firm yet unwritten rules that regulate the code of conduct of society.

Whereas Poor Things shows the expansion of boundaries, and is set in a fictional world, where there are no limitations to what one can do.

Therefore, both characterisations in Age of Innocence and Poor Things do highlight the limitations in both environments even though they are both set in different time periods. In Age of Innocence the society in which the Archer Newland lives prevent him from doing as he pleases without being persecuted and being an outcast. In Poor Things the limitation is not so much science, but others perception of what Baxter has done that is morally wrong, and his limitation is his physical attributes. So generally the characterization is similar in that they are moulded by society's thinking, illustrating the same constraints.