Conformity in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence Essay

1292 Words 6 Pages
The pressure of conformity affects individual expression and varies in degrees in which it impacts an individual’s life. Regardless of time period, conformity is able to force individualists to abide by the social standards inculcated into society and deemphasize the importance behind individualism. In the 1920s, New York City adopted a structure parallel to conformity in its figurative hierarchy after the grief and devastation of World War I. With fear of the unknown, a reestablishment of tradition and routine followed, including an adaptation to the use of silences. The individuals with class and power used silence as a vehicle to conform and unify but, free-willed individuals gave another purpose to silence. It became a tool to express …show more content…
Likewise, they continued to suppress the individual as they developed using silence as a method of control to build up their “class-conscious conservatism” that unknowingly evaded the moral standards of the modern time (Burt). New York was incapable of opening its eyes and finding meaning in its world; the people “could only look blankly at blankness,” unable to find purpose behind the unpleasant (Wharton 28). Society spreads unpleasantry through gossip and rumor to alienate different and innovative individuals to ultimately stifle the revelation of a changing world. Society reflects one of its pitfalls when involving itself in the infliction its own unpleasant nature on the individual, defeating its own initial purpose of censoring the disagreeable. The systems within society avoid the harsh truths of their lack of integrity while being hypocritical of their own principle; they continue to defend a false sense of security that existed within the boundaries of conformity. To accentuate their disparity, Wharton generates a symbol of aversion and controversy that displays the invisible evils that New York has to offer.
To illustrate the nature in which New York applies these silences, Wharton introduces a female character that symbolizes all the ideas and innovations that New York feared most.
Countess Olenska represents the force of
Open Document