The Age of Innocence

Conflict Between the Individual and Society as Depicted in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence

One of the main themes that is recurrent throughout Edith Wharton’s work The Age of Innocence is the ongoing struggle between the individual and society. This is an issue that Wharton was quite concerned with in the novel, and it is reflected in the characters in the book. The story is a window into the era in which she wrote, and we can see that the situations and dilemmas faced by the main characters are largely centered around this conflict.

Any attempt to understand the conflicts in the novel in the context of the larger society in which they transpire must begin with a consideration of the main characters and their motivations. May Welland Archer is a product of the social code and hierarchy in which she was raised. We can see that her choices and actions are often based upon what she thinks that other people will think. Throughout the course of the novel she gradually morphs into a near mirror image of her mother. She becomes increasingly controlling of those around her, particularly Newland. Her trickery with regards to the pregnancy ruse speaks to how far she has come in attaining and maintaining control. Ultimately, while she cannot offer Newland what he seeks in a relationship, she ironically represents what can be...

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