The Age of Innocence

There Was Good in the Old Ways: The Conventions of Society in The Age of Innocence

Although Edith Wharton describes a society that had disappeared in order to make way for the progress of a later age, she both criticizes and lauds the unrecoverable culture that helped to define New York City in the 1870s. Throughout The Age of Innocence, she uses the social interactions and attitudes of Newland Archer and his acquaintances as a means of weighing society itself. Years after the novel's primary events, she has Newland reflect upon the good of the lost elite, and despite obvious problems, "there was good in the old ways" (Wharton, 347). At the end of the story, he has the opportunity to once again meet his former love, Ellen Olenska, but the fact that he would rather preserve untainted the memories of his youth shows how much he values the irreclaimable past. While Wharton frequently derides New York's aristocracy, its reluctance to abandon the social standards and moral conventions of the period truly does make it a good society in Newland's perception, and the author supports his conclusion through her depiction of the interaction between the New York elite.

The activities of New York's elite society create an atmosphere where the preservation of standards and conventions is of...

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