The Importance Of Individuality In The Age Of Innocence

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Americans have struggled with their appearances for centuries. In The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Wharton demonstrates the ongoing struggle between individuality and conforming to society the upper-class New Yorkers experienced in the 1870’s. The rules of their society are rarely discussed, yet always understood amongst the elite, and can never be broken. The novel follows the lives of Newland Archer, May Welland-Archer, and Ellen Olenska in their day-to-day struggle of keeping their reputation in the society. The people in the upper-class New York society Edith Wharton discusses in The Age of Innocence rely on approval from others, with the aim of keeping their appearances in society. Newland Archer lives his whole life base on the New York social code and learns there is nothing more important than his appearance in New York society. At first, Archer is content to marry his beautiful fiancé, who perfectly fits into their prestigious society until he realizes how fake his society is, and how fake May truly is. He first notices this fake innocence in May, “But when he had gone the brief round of her he returned discouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence were only an artificial product. Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent, it was full of the twists and turns and defenses of an instinctive guile” (39). After looking at May, Archer observes that she perfectly fit the mold of society: a pure and innocent woman. May has been taught she
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