The Age of Innocence

A Struggle With Society 12th Grade

“It’s worth everything, isn’t it, to keep one’s intellectual liberty, not to enslave one’s powers of appreciation, one’s critical independence?” (164). Questioning the concepts of true freedom and liberty, the overall theme presented throughout Edith Wharton’s masterful novel, The Age of Innocence, is the abstraction of individualism. Narrated in the third-person omniscient point-of-view, this novel discusses old New York’s reactions to scandal and contrasts traditional ideas with those that their society denounces. Set in late eighteenth-century New York, the protagonist Newland Archer is torn between duty and passion when the mysterious Countess Olenska arrives. Trapped between two women with completely contradictory sets of ideals, Archer does not know whether to commit himself to the woman who lives for honor and decency or to accept the woman who understands his opposition towards society's cruelty. The novel is “typically read as a discussion of the conflict between the individual and society,” as Archer struggles with abiding by society’s rules and fulfilling his colleagues’ expectations (Hynes).

One of the most significant conflicts present is the antithesis between the safety of conformity and tradition and the...

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