The Age of Innocence

The Disadvantaged Elite: Upper-Class Men and Feminism in The Age of Innocence 12th Grade

Feminism, in its early stages, was perceived as a form of activism reserved for women. The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the suffrage movements of the 1860s, and the conception of Planned Parenthood in 1916 all revolved around and relied on female participation. However, Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel The Age of Innocence features a male character, Newland Archer, exploring and supporting feminist ideas. Throughout the novel, Archer struggles to maintain his newfound feminist ideologies as he deals with social pressures telling him to view women as prized objects. Newland’s conflict regarding his burgeoning feminist ideas illustrates that even elite men are disadvantaged when it comes to defying social norms in a social setting.

Social customs involving women are among the major concepts examined in The Age of Innocence. In the upper classes of society in 1870s New York, there were many standards and customs that were treated as law. One of the most rigid social conventions was the rejection of divorce. Divorce was seen as a sacrilegious and unorthodox process, and women were expected to remain with their husbands regardless of the circumstances. However, there were few who dared to break from the system and divorce their...

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