A New Perspective
As I have been reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence the symbolism has been extremely strong. Each character has their own meaning and representation which I am fascinated by. May Welland represents the social norm and stereotypical New York society. She is a beautiful, perfect representation of what society expects in a wife. Mrs. Manson Mingott represents a cross between the upper class and an outcast. She is very much involved in the affluent society, but she also has a strong opinion about things and accepts Ellen Olenska into her home which is very taboo. This leads us into our next character, Ellen Olenska, who is a complete misfit. She represents mystery and freedom, exactly what society does not want. Our final character to analyze is Newland Archer, who is the most perplexing character in my opinion. Archer is constantly changing, in the beginning of the book he is very involved in societal norms, but as the book goes on he is straying further away from that. Archer represents change and controversy in society. “‘Women should be free- as free as we are’… ‘Nice’ women, however wronged, would never claim the kind of freedom he meant” (Wharton 37). Archer’s change of heart is sparked by his newfound curiosity with Ellen and he begins contemplating his engagement with May. This quote really stood out to me because it emphasizes how unique his thinking is because most men in that society didn’t want women to have freedom, they just wanted a perfect little housewife. Obviously something, or more specifically someone, has changed Newland Archer’s mindset.
I am incredibly pleased with Wharton’s ability to show character changes so subtlety. Just the way their thoughts and conversations are portrayed you can see how the character has had a change of heart and the factors that contributed. Obviously I am talking about Newland Archer in which I have seen the character shift since the beginning of the book, as I was saying in the previous paragraph. No one every blatantly said he is changing because of his interaction with Ellen, but from the author’s writing style, it is made clear.