Age of Innocence Character Analysis

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Newland Archer
As the protagonist of the novel, Newland Archer's point of view governs its narration. He is said to be a dilettante at the beginning of the novel, someone who amateurishly enjoys the pleasurable and delicate sensations that are the luxury of the members of the ruling class. He is respectable and seems to have bought into all the baggage that is a part of maintaining respectability. But his character is set against those of his peers and his family members in that it is through his point of view that the others are mostly seen. At the opening of the novel, Newland is already both an insider and an outsider in his social world. He knows its social codes intimately and follows them unquestioningly, but he also smiles at them and regards them with a certain amount of tolerant irony. He recognizes the shallowness of its social behaviors and he also participates in them. For instance, he recognizes his social group attends the old Opera Theater because it is inconvenient and therefore discourages the attendance of the new rich. He recognizes that people attend the opera to be seen and to see each other and he does so too. However, he also knows the opera well enough to respect it and love it. Newland Archer's contentment with his life is thoroughly developed in the first chapters. When he engages himself to May, he is perfectly happy with his choice for a wife. May follows all the conventions of her society: she is beautiful, but not sexy; she adores him and lets him lead her intellectually; and she is trained to be perfectly innocent of all that he feels he is so worldly wise about. Marrying May will make Newland more masterly. He'll be able to teach her his thinking and mold her to his desires. Newland feels as if he is acquiring an exquisite object of art, one that will show off his good taste. But then he changes drastically. He meets Ellen Olenska and is introduced to the freshness of her unconventional behavior. He begins...
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