The Age of Innocence

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January 5th 2011

The Death Of Innocence

Characterization is a description of qualities or peculiarities. In “The Age of Innocence” Edith Wharton uses characterization over plot to emphasize the ways in which a death of innocence is taking place in society. Throughout the novel, various characters emerge who challenge the strict order of society and while they face a great deal of opposition, they often are far more complex and, more interesting than the characters who are a part of the old order. The most obvious is Countess Ellen Olenska. She is known for her exotic tastes, her worldliness, and her sophistication. Another character is Countess Olenska’s cousin, May Welland. May is the innocent girl, the “perfect wife” and truly a wise woman. The final character is May Welland’s fiancée and soon to be husband, Newland Archer. He is at first, dilettante and also contempt, but throughout the book he becomes much more dissatisfied.

Throughout the book, Countess Ellen Olenska displays many character traits which the people of old New York are not quite used to. Archer described that “what he saw, meanwhile, with the help of the lamp, was the faded shadowy charm of a room unlike any room he had known.”(Wharton 59). Countess Ellen Olenska had very exotic tastes. After living much of her life in Europe, she is not used to the conformities of New York. Ellen’s worldliness does not allow her to think like society does. “I’ve never been in a city where there seems to be such a feeling against living in des quartiers excentriques.”(Wharton 63). To Ellen’s surprise, living in a place where your neighbours were “People Who Wrote”(Wharton 57) was not acceptable in society, but because of her sense of worldliness, she can not understand why. Ellen Olenska’s first appearance in “The Age Of Innocence” gives us a sense that she is a very sophisticated yet scandalous young woman. “The suggestion of a head-dress,...
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