The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence Summary and Analysis of Chapters 30-34

Chapter Thirty-One Summary: Newland begins walking home from Catherine¹s. In his mind, he wrestles with the plausibility of really having an affair with Ellen. He goes to the Beaufort¹s home, since Catherine informed him that Ellen is there. He meets Ellen there and they decide to meet the next day at the Art Museum. At the museum, they look at relics. Elen says, "it seems cruel that after a while nothing matters any more than these little things, that used to necessary and important to forgotten people, and now have to be guessed at under a magnifying glass and labeled: ŒUse Unknown.¹ Ellen realizes that her presence so near to Newland will endanger his marriage; she is deeply afraid of having a tawdry affair and becoming "just like the others". So, she and Newland decide that they will "come to each other" (have a sexual tryst) once and then she will return to Europe. Then Ellen exclaims that she is late and leaves Newland in the museum. Newland returns home and May is out; she returns and says that she just came back from a long talk with Ellen. May seems happy and sad; she suddenly has a better esteem for Ellen. At the same time, she flings her arms around Newland in a tearful embrace exclaiming, "You haven¹t kissed me today!"

Analysis: It¹s fascinating that Newland and Ellen arrange their meeting in the museum. Here we see an inversion of public and private spaces: the museum, a very public location is now a "private" romantic trysting place. This sort of inversion is apparent in other interesting interactions between Ellen and Newland throughout the book.

Ellen¹s and Newland¹s reaction to the artifacts explains one of the ironies of the book. While this entire novel is about the forbidding conventions of society that interfere with the machinations of a love-affair, those conventions, like the relics, are soon to become obsolete with "Use Unknown." The conventions of New York society are symbolized by the relics sitting in the case; yet ironically, Ellen and Newland still feel confined by the conventions even though they realize the conventions are soon to become archaic.

May¹s meeting with Ellen is very suspicious; we will find out in later chapters why this meeting will be important.

Chapter Thirty-Two Summary: Newland and his wife and mother go to the Opera. He goes to watch the performance of _Faust_. Mrs. van der Luyden comments that she saw Catherine¹s carriage parked outside of the Beaufort¹s home. May quickly lies for Catherine saying that she is certain that the carriage was there without Catherine knowing. The van der Luydens realize that Ellen had taken the carriage to the Beauforts. Mrs. Archer tries to make excuses: "Imprudent people are often kind."

Newland watches the Opera with some disgust thinking, "the same large blonde victim is succumbing to the same small brown seducer."

May is wearing her wedding dress for the first time in two years. Wharton explains that "it was the custom, in old New York, for brides to appear in this costly garment during the first year or two of marriage."

Newland decides that he absolutely must leave and whispers to May that he has a beastly headache and wants to go home. In the carriage, Newland opens the window, needing air.

Stepping out of the carriage, May tears her wedding dress. Newland asks if she¹d like some brandy "because she looks very pale" but May blushes and says no. Newland tries to talk to May about Ellen; but May cleverly guides the conversation to explain that Ellen will be returning to Europe soon. Newland is obviously shaken by the news and May leaves the room quietly saying "my head aches too."

Analysis: At this point in the novel, it has been exactly two years since the start of the novel. Newland¹s impression of the Opera has radically changed. He no longer feels that the Opera is beautiful and romantic; rather, the Opera is boring and predictable with the "same blonde victim" and the "same small brown seducer." Romance entirely has become a farce to Newland who watches with much skepticism.

May wears her wedding dress on this evening. This symbol has a lot of significances. Perhaps May is just wearing the dress because she remembers that she was engaged exactly two years prior. But she may also be wearing it because she realizes that she is about to lose her husband to Ellen and wants to remind her husband of his marital vows. She also may be wearing it because her discussion with Ellen the day before had been "successful;" perhaps she had been able to convince Ellen to leave her husband alone and return to Europe. In this case, her wearing of the wedding dress signifies that she believes her wedding is beginning again, anew. In any case, her wedding dress tears while she exits the cab symbolically signifying that some part of her marriage is scarred, torn.

Also, something may be wrong with May; she no longer drinks and blushes when Newland asks. She has headaches and looks very pale. All these clues foreshadow the momentous next chapter.

Chapter Thirty-Three Summary: The Archers begin setting up for their first dinner party, "a big event" for a young couple. The party will be in honor of Ellen Olenska leaving New York and returning to Europe.

Although Ellen had not spoken to Newland in ten days, he returned a key that he had given her earlier in a blank envelope. Newland is assigned the job of evaluating Ellen¹s trust. All the while that he is taking care of her finances, he think that there will be an affair between the two in the future. His belief in the future keeps him from writing her.

The night of the dinner party Ellen looks pale, "lusterless and almost ugly." But still, Newland had never loved her face as much as he did at that moment." Newland notices that Ellen¹s hand is ungloved. Newland thinks, "If it were only to see her hand again I should have to follow her ­" Normally only "foreign visitors" would be important enough to sit at the hosts left and take the place of Mrs. van der Luyden. But, they make an exception and let Ellen sit to the host¹s left because, "There were certain things that had to be done, and If done at all, done handsomely and thoroughly; and one of these in the old New York code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman about to be eliminated from the tribe."

Newland realizes that everyone thinks that a true "affair" had been going on between Newland and Ellen; the celebration is really because the "separation between himself and the partner of his guilt had been achieved." It was the New York way to take a life without any traces of blood.

Everyone sits at the table discussing travel in a dispassionate way. Newland looks at Ellen; he imagines she is thinking, "Let¹s see it through," which means, let¹s have our affair as planned.

All the men retire to the library after dinner, and discuss how their society is changing. Larry Lefferts says, "If things go on at this pace we shall see our children fighting for invitations to swindlers¹ houses and marrying Beaufort¹s bastards."

Later that evening, May asks if it is alright if they have a talk. Newland tries to tell her that he is tired of life and wants to go on a long trip; May says, that he can¹t go because she found out today that she is pregnant. Newland has a "sick stare" and asks who she has told. She says that she¹s told Mrs. Archer and Mrs. Welland and Š. Ellen. She had told Ellen about it two weeks ago.

Newland asks her why she would tell Ellen about her pregnancy if she was not sure about it until today. She says, "I wasn¹t sure then, but I told her I was."

Analysis: This chapter is one of the most important chapters in the book because it is the end of the affair between Newland and Ellen. In this chapter we come to understand through May¹s circumlocutions that May lied to Ellen when they had talked together. May told her that she was pregnant although she wasn¹t sure that she was. Clearly, May was uncomfortable that Ellen had come back to New York; she wanted to make very clear to Ellen that she should stay away from her husband. Telling Ellen that she was pregnant made Ellen decide that she shouldn¹t sleep with Archer after all. Ellen would not want to give Newland any reasons to leave his pregnant wife..

The key is a symbol the beginning of their affair and the power of "opening" new doors and beginnings. Newland interprets the return of the key as being "another step in the game." It isn¹t until May reveals that she is pregnant, does Newland understand what the return of the key meant. Ellen was ending their affair, before May¹s heart could get broken.

This chapter is a stunning example of May¹s manipulativeness. She is able to end the affair by lying to Ellen and then hold a dinner party in her honor.

Chapter Thirty-Four Summary: Newland is now fifty-seven and he is remembering his life while sitting at hiswriting table. He thinks about his son Dallas and his daughter Mary. Mary married one of Reggie Chivers¹s dullest sons. Dallas became an architect and Newland became a politician, briefly. Newland realizes that he has become a "good citizen" although he has missed the "flower of life." Newland respected the duty of marriage and mourned when May died. Dallas calls his father on the telephone and tells him that he is going to Paris on business; Newland must accompany him.

Newland reflects that so much had changed in his world. Dallas, his eldest son, was in fact marrying on e of :Beaufort¹s bastards", Fanny Beaufort, and no one cared!

Newland goes to Paris with his son; there, Dallas informs him that Ellen is expecting them in the evening. Dallas says that Newland should definitely go see her because Ellen was once "Newland¹s Fanny", the "woman Newland would have chucked everything for, but didn¹t." Dallas reveals that May said, on her death bed, that she asked Newland to Œgive up the thing he wanted most, and he did." Newland says simply, "She didn¹t ask." Dallas then remarks that May and Newland never told each other anything; they lived in a silent "deaf and dumb asylum."

When Newland and Dallas arrive in Ellen¹s neighborhood; Newland decided that he doesn¹t want to go up and see her. When Dallas asks him what she should say on his behalf, he says, say that I¹m "Old-fashioned."

Dallas goes to see Ellen and Newland sits on the bench outside her building for a long time; when a servant comes to shut her shutters, Newland decides to leave the neighborhood.

Analysis: This chapter is written to show, quite ironically, that all the prohibitions that "bent and bound" Newland no longer exist a generation later. His son Dallas is able to live the life that Newland would have lived if he had not had Society choosing the women he mustt marry, the profession he would have, the way he would speak. Dallas makes fun of Newland for living such a life without passion, living in a "deaf and dumb asylum" for so many years. Newland even recognizes that the death of May has liberated him to finally be with his true love, Ellen, but habit has made him a coward and trapped in the same day-to-day life.

What is so sad about the ending is that earlier in the novel there was always someone to blame for why Newland and Ellen could not be together. First, Ellen was still married; then the wedding was moved forward; then May was pregnant. But now, at the end, there is nothing stopping Newland from meeting Ellen. But Newland has become so inculcated by his old society values that he can¹t even act when there are no prohibitions.

Now, the theme of the book becomes tricky. Prior to this chapter, one could make an easy case that Society prevented people from realizing their dreams. But now we see, that it is Newland¹s own cowardice that prevents him from being happy. Society becomes just an excuse for why people don¹t seek out their dreams. Beaufort is an example of a man from his own generation who found happiness despite the regulations, his own financial destruction and the disdain of society. Wharton¹s point seems to be that people should not blame their society for their inability to act ­ the rules and norms of society change rapidly, so it is only one¹s personal standards that can be constant and abided by.