Prompt 4 In her novel The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton describes popular attitudes that used to define New York upper class existential mode, at the end of 19th century. In its turn, this gives us a right to discuss this novel within social context. The most striking psychological trait of upstanding New Yorkers, at the time, was their naive belief in the fact that following certain moral code, on their part, is what enabled them to exercise socio-political authority over others. In other words, these people were convinced that, despite the fact that their fortunes were ill gotten, they nevertheless represented the best bulk of humanity, simply because they knew how to suppress their physical, cultural and intellectual urges, for the sake of maintaining social propriety. This is why critics often describe Whartons novel as such that portrays New York upper class as being affected by the concept of social innocence, which has an artificial nature. The characters in The Age of Innocence are capable of destroying other peoples lives with ease, just because these people failed to embrace the conventional rules of social conduct as their own, while being simultaneously offended by such words as sex. The members of New York Society are convinced that they can judge other peoples behavior, because they consider themselves as being innocent, in social context of this word. This explains the fact why many novels characters try to avoid making coherent statements, when it comes to discussing controversial subjects. However, it is quite impossible to refrain from using emotionally motivated terminology, while facing objective reality.
... is a fact that people are not equal. Watchdogs of political correctness explain this by different social reasons. For example, Black peoples low ... standards of living are explained by the fact that they were ... proves the fact that inequality among people is not socially but biologically based. In India there are 5 social casts that are ...
Therefore, the members of New Your Society strive to adjust the objective reality itself to the set of their irrational beliefs, just as modern promoters of political correctness do. It is exactly the reason why it can hardly escape readers attention that the majority of novels characters are being overly polite. However, this politeness does not come naturally, on the part of New Yorks elite. In fact, upstanding New Yorkers are shown as such that apply a considerable amount of effort, in order to smile, for example. They are being polite for as long as they think of it as the integral part of distancing themselves mentally from the rest of the scum. When Ellen Olensky leaves back to Europe, her relatives come to say good bye, but they would not come to greet her when she arrived to New York, because, in their eyes, she did not have the right to be separated from her husband: There were certain things that had to be done, and if done at all, done handsomely and thoroughly; and one of these in the old New York code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman about to be eliminated from the tribe (Chapter 33, p.
We can say that politeness and innocence, on the part of New York society, is nothing but symptom of its members being unable to come to terms with realities of Industrial era. These people rightfully considered themselves as worlds elite. They were rich, imaginative and they were not instilled with the complex of historical guilt, just because the color of their skin. Yet, somehow, author portrays them as being unable to open up their minds to new ideas. ‘I’m sick of the hypocrisy that would bury alive a woman of her age if her husband prefers to live with harlots… Women ought to be free – as free as we are (Chapter 5, p. 35) says Newland Archer, but then he thinks of his own statement with horror, because it was socially inappropriate to say things like this in Victorian America.
We cannot discuss The Age of Innocence, while thinking that novel only has social implications. In fact, Whartons novel provides us with insight on what caused White people to loose their undisputed geopolitical hegemony in the word by the turn of 21st century, even though they used to dictate rules to the whole world at the time when The Age of Innocence was being written. It appears that characters, portrayed in Whartons novel, belong to the third generation, which only has a conductive intelligence as its main attribute. In other words, the members of New York Society are shown as people who are capable of conducting social rituals, while the empirical essence of such rituals remains unknown to them. They are both verbally witty, but mentally shallow. They are not capable of challenging the surrounding reality, as their ancestors, who were able to make fortunes simply because of knowing how to act in decisive manner and how to impose its will on others.
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The New York natives, in Whartons novel, also think that it is their natural right to be societys leaders. However, they do not realize that they had lost the psychological traits, which would qualify them for such position. All that is left to them is to reflect on what is happening around, while trying to pretend that objective reality does not have any affect on their worldview: In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs (Chapter 6, p. 38).
We can talk about Whartons novel as authors attempt to describe what represented the essence of socio-political tension in America in late 18th century, as well as in other civilized countries. There is a clear inconsistency between how novels characters act and how they see themselves acting. It is not by a pure coincidence that members of New York society never get tired of mentioning the noble properties of their bloodline. It appears that the main topic of their conversations, during social gatherings, is how they are related to old English nobility.
While being overwhelmingly Protestants, they do not understand the spiritual foundation of Protestant code of ethics, which prioritizes the ability to come up with commercial profit as the greatest of all virtues. This is why they view themselves as protectors of morality, while being capitalist sharks, who value money more than anything else. It is obvious that Wharton views individual as social being; however, she also doubts the validity of such point of view, because strong social ties, on the part of her characters, do not benefit them. In fact, these ties are shown as such that prevent people from being able to achieve marital happiness. Wharton used to be subjected to elitist upbringing, which is why she does not brand upper class social ignorance as definite evil, but rather strives to expose its mechanics. She satirizes it, but she is not fully convinced of whether she has a right to do this, which leaves no doubt, as to what social class she was affiliated with, throughout her life. Thus, we can describe The Age of Innocence as authors attempt to criticize behavioral superficiality, without understanding the simple fact that this superficiality has an objective essence, which corresponds to the biological and economic notions.
... ago, and had taught her to learn to accept it. Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York: 1920.. ... to protect herself, her family, her marriage, and even the social structure itself, the very structure which forced her into accepting ... may feel as if May was abandoning all of the social customs in order to speak what was on her mind ...
However, this does not deprive novel of its literary finesse. There can be no doubt that, besides making The Age of Innocence attractive to idealistic young women, as potential readers, Wharton also wanted to express her opinion in regards to how society handles the age-old tension between individual desires and rules. Nevertheless, we cannot refer to Whartons novel as such that contains moral judgments. In all probability, this is because, author understood that, since her potential opinions were going to be emotionally motivated, they could not be thought of as valid. This is why Wharton refrains from suggesting that moral superficiality actually destroys peoples lives. She allows readers to come to their own conclusion, as to what societys code of ethics should be based upon. In early 20th century, The Age of Innocence could have been thought of as such that contains rebellious ideas, which back than were being strongly associated with Socialism, as political movement.
Nowadays, her novel represents mostly historical value, however, because of realities of post-industrial society, it might very well be the case that social problematics, discussed in it, might again become acute. Wharton clearly identifies the reflexive mode of behavior as such that has a metaphysical priority. In other words it is a code of ethics that needs to correspond to peoples natural way of acting and not the other way around. This it why Whartons novel can be described as such that has educational value, besides purely literary one. If novel was not called The Age of Innocence, it could have been named Gone with the Wind, because it is only the matter of very short time, before people become part of history, as result of their unwillingness to evolve, in social and political sense of this word..
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