Age of Innocence Analysis
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Any literary Age of Innocence analysis must pay heed to the novel's predominant theme of the personal struggle between individuality and conforming to social expectations. This mature literary work was the twelfth novel written by Edith Wharton. Published in 1920, The Age of Innocence won the Pulitzer Prize for novels the following year - the first time the award had gone to a woman. Like much of Wharton's writing, the novel focuses on the New York high society she was born into. Its accurate, revealing portrayal of that society was a primary reason for the Pulitzer award.
Here are a few facts about Wharton and her novel Age of Innocence:
- Published in 1920
- Main characters: Countess Ellen Olenska, Newland Archer, May Welland, Granny Manson Mingott and Augusta Welland
- 12th Novel written by Wharton
- Was first serialized in the Pictorial Review in 1920
The Age of Innocence Theme
The theme of the battle between individual desire and group order surfaces most clearly in the struggles of Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska, a Countess by marriage to a Polish nobleman who proved unfaithful. Countess Olenska is cousin to Archer's betrothed, May Welland. After Olenska's separation from the Count and return to America, she impresses Archer with her scandalous perspective on New York society. Before long, the two have fallen in love. The family, however, discourages Olenska from divorcing her husband for fear of scandal - not to mention growing concern that she may be imperiling the planned marriage of her cousin May Welland and Newland Archer.
Analysis of Gender in Age of Innocence
The family's demands echo social conventions of the time, of course, and the novel raises questions about the distinction between perpetrator and victim when even people of apparent power are also restricted by the conventions they strive to enforce. A feminist or Marxist scholar might emphasize themes related to class or gender in his or her own Age of Innocence analysis, but Wharton herself was most concerned with this struggle between individuals and society.