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Research Paper on Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence

How do you start a Wharton Age of Innocence research paper? Our expert writers suggest like this:

In Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence, the author demonstrates the changing morals and assumptions about New York society in the 1870s, largely through the comparison of two women, May and Ellen. Looking at the prospect of a young man’s marriage to the former, Wharton presents a glimpse into traditional society. Paper Masters suggests the following topics for a research paper on Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence:

  1. Discuss the social culture of the novel by Wharton.
  2. Examine the current events that were significant to the era in which the novel was written.
  3. Explain what the title "Age of Innocence" says about the novel.Wharton Age of Innocence

Newland Archer and May Welland comprise a “society marriage,” one that was arranged and carried out for the sake of doing what was polite and appropriate. Unsurprisingly, the marriage of the two is loveless and empty, and it is only when May becomes pregnant that Newland forces himself to remain in such an arrangement.

Unlike May, Ellen is the vision of the modern woman; she left a bad marriage to a Polish count, bringing shame and dishonor to her family. She is shunned by many, but her cousin, May, and her fiancée, Newland, accept her. The latter finds himself falling in love with this woman, seeing her as something markedly different from the conventions he was used to. He even went so far as to ask his fiancée to move up their wedding date, hoping that going through the ceremony would remove his infatuation with Ellen. When the two eventually marry, Newland finds that his feelings do not dissipate.

The climax of the story comes when Newland is prepared to leave his wife to pursue her cousin who had just returned to Europe; just as he is about to tell May of his plans, she interrupts him with the news that she is going to have a child. The reader can only presume that Ellen left America to prevent him from doing this, having been told that his wife was pregnant just a few weeks earlier. The story closes by looking a quarter-century into the future; May has died, and Newland travels to Paris with his son. When he finds Ellen’s apartment, he sends his son upstairs to speak with her. Rather than encounter her, though, he merely walks away, back to his hotel, content in only remembering what could have been.

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