The Age of Innocence

Conformity in Disguise in Age of Innocence

“Ah, don’t say that. If you knew how I hate to be different!” (Wharton 69). Ellen Olenska in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence is, to Newland Archer, the perfect example of an exciting rebel to the mores of society in the New York aristocracy. He is intrigued by her mysterious past in Europe and all the scandal she brought back to New York with her. Newland’s wife, May Archer, is what he considers the total opposite of Ellen Olenska. May is sweet and innocent, and she makes no attempt to hide the fact the she wishes to be very much a product of that society. Newland’s actions and thoughts around the two women make them appear very different, but Newland’s own feelings are not always concurrent with the ladies true actions, but rather with what he wants them to be to him. When Ellen's behaviors, attitudes, and motives are analyzed alongside May's, it becomes apparent that Ellen’s life would much more closely resemble May’s were she accepted by the upper-class New York society of the 1870s.

The first instance where one can see a tendency towards conforming to society on Ellen’s part is the way both women respond to the subject of Ellen’s divorce. When Newland goes to see Ellen to talk her out of the divorce on the request...

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