Character Analysis Of Edith Wharton's The Age Of Innocence

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Ashlin Crittenden
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26 November 2017
The Age of Innocence Character Analysis: Newland Archer Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence is a rich novel that transports the reader to a very different time in American history. Scholar Margaret Jessee notes that Wharton’s story is “set in the Old New York of the 1870s” (37). It is interesting to note, however, that Wharton actually wrote The Age of Innocence in Europe during the “post-World I” years of the 20th century (Jessee 37). Wharton’s novel is, therefore, written from the fascinating and unique perspective of a woman who experienced the events of both the late 19th century and the early 20th century (Evron 39). The actions of the novel’s main character, Newland Archer, are a reflection of this perspective. Newland Archer is troubled by the traditions he feels obligated to adhere to, his heart is torn between recklessness and reason, and his mindset is, in some ways, a reflection of the author’s own mentality. Newland Archer makes a number of critical observations about society pretty early on in The Age of Innocence. His ideas on feminine empowerment, for example, are reflected in his opinions about the various women in his life. Archer hopes that he can encourage May Welland to think for herself. The narrator notes that Archer does not want his wife “to be a simpleton,” and that he wants her “to develop a social tact and readiness of wit” (Wharton 6). He also has a high regard for women who are considered untraditional and who command respect. This outlook can clearly be seen in his opinion of “Mrs. Manson Mingott, the Matriarch of the line” (Wharton 9). Mrs. Mingott is a woman who was not expected to be successful after the death of her husband. The article “Bourdieu, Wharton and Changing Culture in the Age of Innocence” offers further insight into the nature of Mrs. Mingott’s authority: “Like her namesake, Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, Mrs. Mingott wields real and symbolic power” (Singley 510). Archer is said to have “always admired the high and mighty old lady” (Wharton 9). Newland Archer’s desire for a more sophisticated wife and his respect for the head of the Mingott family reflect the forward-thinking

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