Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence Essay

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Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence

“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.” These eternal words spoken in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather reflect the importance and prevalence of family allegiances. These allegiances transcend many different cultures, societies and environments. Every society has its own “Fredo”: the social outcast whose decisions make him or her the center of attention in society, and whose family allegiances complicate everything. We can see such a prototype for a character in Countess Olenska, the main character in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Countess Olenska is the black sheep of her family because she is considered foreign, and the complicated decisions she faces often
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They like their theaters “small and inconvenient, [in order to] keep out the ‘new people’” (3). This exclusive nature demonstrates the importance of family allegiances in their society; all families were tied together, and as such any member who deviated from their particular family would stain the reputations of all the others, thus hindering their social life. The members of Old New York society are obsessed with propriety and will do anything to avoid controversy. This was the society in which Countess Olenska was assimilated after her separation from her European husband and her return to New York. This is one of the first indications in the text of Countess Olenska facing very difficult circumstances because of family allegiances (in this case the intra-family allegiance of marriage). Countess Olenska commits the ultimate act of intra-family rebellion: separation. While through the frame of family allegiance we can see that the Countess is faced with a very dire decision of separating despite family pressures and may seem powerless, when we look closer we can see how much control she really has. Countess Olenska knew the consequences of her separation, yet she decided to continue anyway. She puts her own well before everything else. Her defiance sets her up as a strong and independent woman, and the frame of family allegiance that was meant originally to hold her back and show her as being weak actually makes her look stronger for fighting the
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