Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence

Essay by femmefatale27High School, 10th gradeA+, November 2004

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Edith Wharton was one of the best thinkers of her time. Not only did she criticize the society in which she grew up, but she did so in such a way that made it classy and more acceptable. The Age of Innocence is one of my favorite pieces of literature because Edith Wharton uses setting combined with complex characters to develop her personal theme of the conflict between nature and culture.

Wharton's use of setting allows the reader to delve more deeply into the novel and use the history and background of the Old New York society as a base for understanding the plot. She uses contrast a great deal to describe the culture and society she writes about. New York is seen in the early 1870's, during Mrs. Wharton's own childhood, and is bathed in the bright, but accurate colors of her vivid nostalgia. This society of old brownstone and new wealth is arbitrary, capricious and very inconsistent.

Old New York didn't hesitate to abolish their own standards while most loudly proclaiming them. The Age of Innocence gives a deep sense of politics and hierarchy, but contradicts itself by also implementing feelings of freedom and wildness with unique characters such as Ellen Olenska. The society of Old New York tries to expunge these free spirits by imposing

strict social codes. Newland Archer, the protagonist, realizes this stratification and exclaims,

Original! We're all as like each other as those dolls cut out of the same folded paper. We're like patterns stenciled on a wall. Can't you and I strike out for our selves May? (Wharton).

This society tells us that a woman should not leave a man's side and walk across room unescorted to join the company of another man. The morality too, is quite odd and is

entirely dependent...