The Age of Innocence

The Influence of the Tripartite Psyche: Wharton's The Age of Innocence 12th Grade

In a society, there are often multiple unspoken rules that members must adhere to in order to fit in. When an individual begins to deviate from these rules, it may be difficult to understand why. In the novel The Age of Innocence, the aristocratic Newland Archer makes many decisions that are seen as socially unacceptable, along with many that he grudgingly makes for the sake of appearances. Though they may be confusing to the other members in society, these actions can be better understood after a psychological analysis using Sigmund Freud’s theory of the ego, id – in combination with Lacan’s objet petit a – and superego. The theories of Freud and Lacan regarding the psyche reveal how the actions of an individual, such as Newland, are driven by the unconscious mind.

Newland Archer, a product of the social world of old New York, repeatedly finds himself torn between his unconscious desires and his apparent social obligations. Newland is the epitome of an aristocratic male in New York society – he is financially well endowed, comes from a respectable lineage, and is educated to the point where European art has become a common conversational topic. Growing up, he was made intricately familiar with the rules of etiquette and...

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