Age of innocence thesis
But Archer turns away from her, preferring his dream to the reality.
May is thought to be pure and innocent, but knows and manipulates more than she is given credit for. Everyone must adhere to a complex code of taste and morals to be accepted.
Symbols in the age of innocence
With everyone cursing her, betraying her and hurting her, there was one person who was always there for her. Archer fears that May will decorate it in the style of her parents' house. Thus 'innocence' can be interpreted in many ways. He longed to question her, to hear more about the life of which her careless words had given him so illuminating a glimpse; but he feared to touch on distressing memories… He knows the conventions and follows them, but he also regards them with an attitude that ranges from tolerant irony to rage. Is he a hypocrite? Ellen's leaving so precipitately, however, is due to May. If, however, the van der Luydens extend a dinner invitation to socially accept Ellen, then New Yorkers have a clear signal of what is expected. The next opportunity comes in Chapter 33, after the dinner party that May and Archer host in honor of Ellen's departure. There are two elements that prevent this. She represents the death of the old order by demonstrating that even a woman of high birth and marriage is breaking out of traditional modes of gender roles and behavior just as other minor characters, such as those with new wealth like the Beaufort family as well as Mrs. Victorian women are beautiful trophies but innocent brides. Who, or what, keeps Archer and Ellen from ending up together?
It is a huge success, but under the surface it is a "civilized" triumph because of May's position as "wife. The love she always wanted.
The age of innocence themes
So what society judges as innocence is not always what it seems, and conversely, what it judges as guilt may not be. The individuals that make up 'society' are free to throw off old models and invent new ones, and this does happen within the timescale of the novel. Loyalty must be maintained. Thus Wharton suggests that the New York society that set itself up as the supreme arbiter of morals and taste is as transient and irrelevant as these objects. There are two elements that prevent this. Ellen's leaving so precipitately, however, is due to May. On one hand, the old society is innocent, in that it resolutely refuses to look at or admit to any of the "unpleasant" things of life: divorce, extra-marital affairs, or even new ideas brought in by artists, men and women of ideas, and "people who wrote". Once so important to the users, they are now labeled "Use unknown". Students were expected to draw on concepts they had studied over the length of the course. Tradition also is a way of passing on values. Despite that knowledge, Newland does not realize that the family has been plotting behind his back to keep him faithful.
The final opportunity, when Archer arrives at Ellen's apartment but does not go in, has nothing at all to do with the expectations of society or family pressure.
He knows what people talk about her and does not want her reputation to go lower than it is. He reserves rich golden-yellow roses for Ellen, whom he sees as fiery and passionate.
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