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Just who is innocent in the novel, The Age of Innocence?

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Introduction

YR 12 ENGLISH LIT. LONG ESSAY EMMA BRIGHT T H E A G E O F I N N O C E N C E Just who is innocent in the novel, The Age of Innocence? Despite the impression given by the title, the society which the novel portrays was not, as one would say an 'Age of Innocence'. The title suggests that all the characters are uncorrupted by wrongdoing, that is they are sinless, and are also inexperienced and na�ve. Ironically, the majority of the characters within the novel are not innocent, despite the appearance they maintain that they are. In Old New York Society, as presented in the novel, religion was still vitally important and those actions that were frowned upon by the church were also condemned by society. The late 19th Century was a time of extremely rigid social expectation in concern to what one wore and how one behaved. Despite these rigid social restrictions, many people committed 'not so innocent' or scandalous acts, but these were hidden under a carefully constructed social fa�ade, as they lived within a society where appearances were of the utmost importance. Innocence was extremely valued within upper class New York society, where all members were expected to conform to the strict social constraints enforced upon them. However, this ideal of 'innocence' was abused by almost all members of society, that is, the characters within the novel. ...read more.

Middle

However, whilst married to May, Archer continued to seek the affection of May's cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska. Such an action, as demonstrated by the philandering actions of both Larry Lefforts and Julius Beaufort, were seen as scandalous, and thus their actions needed to be concealed from society in order to maintain a fa�ade of innocence, "to love Ellen, was to become a man like Lefforts". However, Archer was completely unaware that society, May included, was attentive of his affections for Ellen, and thus was innocent of the scandal surrounding his affair. Archer's actions were deemed as scandalous by society, but he himself is also innocent, as he remains oblivious to the fact that everyone around him knows of his relationship with Ellen. Archer's character can be seen to be both scandalous and innocent, which is also evidenced by other characters within the novel. Seemingly, May Welland is the most innocent character within the novel. By Old New York society's standards, May possesses all the qualities that were deemed necessary of young women; beauty, virtue, a virgin, timid, na�ve and conservative clothes. May was also often illustrated in white or pale clothes and with lilies of the valley, which were symbolic of her innocence. However underneath this appearance of innocence May upheld within society came a woman who cunningly schemed to draw her husband, Newland Archer, away from the Countess Olenska. ...read more.

Conclusion

Ellen has no veneer or fa�ade to hide her true self from society, and as a result can be classed as an innocent character. Ellen is used in contrast to May's character in particular, as May's fa�ade of innocence has the ironic result of making her appear (from a modern perspective) the complete opposite. The characters within The Age of Innocence are not, as one would presume from the title, all completely free from sin or wrongdoing. Instead, the society that Wharton portrays is ironically, relatively not innocent, in that the majority of the characters have some form of scandalous behaviour which they conceal from society. The need to conceal their actions results from ever-present requirement to maintain a false appearance or fa�ade within society. Almost all of the characters appear innocent within Old New York society, when instead they are all hiding the scandalous truth behind a veil of virtue, in order to conform to the regulations of society. Ellen, however, is the only character who does not hide behind a fa�ade within society, thus making her the only truly innocent character. Her actions that break the rules of New York society are a result of her differing cultural life in Europe, and hence she is unaware of the mistakes she makes. The novel illustrates the irony that those who appear innocent, are simply maintaining an appearance which conceals their scandalous behaviour, whilst those who appear scandalous themselves, are the ones who are actually innocent. ...read more.

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