The age of innocence is one of the American classical novels, documenting an important era of the 19th-Newyork society. The novel is full of detailed description of the New Yorker society : its tradition, customs, manners and etiquette. The description is so vivid that you feel you are living among them.
Wharton tells us what does it mean to behave according to what your family and your society dictate to you not according to what you want yourself. Do you know what does it mean to erase who you are to please others ? to die in order to fit within a group who does not care but to be “similar/ confirm” to them? She tells how dangerous in such society to be “different”…difference is a taboo !
Newland and Ellen succumb to what their society expect from them and bury their love. Other might find their actions as an act of sacrifice, but I don’t see it that way. Rather I see it as an act of cowardice and hopelessness from Newland’s part. He could face his family and announce his love to Ellen, but he doesn’t want to lose his position among them even if it means that he will die million times within. Ellen was courageous and within her seeds of rebellion. She wants to live…she doesn’t want to exist. She is a pure soul. She is not the bad young lady her society wants to depict her as. As if history repeats itself, we found young ladies face the same in our Saudi society now: Divorced is a stigma. If she gets divorced, she brings disgrace to herself and her family even if she survives an abusive husband as Ellen!
On the other hand, we have May, Newland’s wife. She is a typical young lady. She is the kind of a girl most mothers -in our 21sth Saudi society- want their daughters to be like. She never expresses her true emotion. She does her best to be modest even around her fiancé. She also does her best to save her marriage although she and every member of her family know quite well that her husband in love with her cousin. She is willing to live with him even though she knows well that his heart belongs somewhere else. She has to keep up appearance …emotions are irrelevant. Yes she manages to live with her kids and her husband, but was it worth it? I always ask myself this question when I see a girl who buries herself, only to please her society !
By all means, a wonderful novel. It really speaks of my society now. Adds her to my favorite classics 🙂