The Stigma of Divorce in the Age of Innocence

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The Stigma of Divorce Represented in The Age of Innocence

Recently, I was driving and saw a sign that deeply disturbed me. A company offers divorce for ninety nine dollars uncontested. I think that this is a huge statement reflecting how flippantly society looks at the subject of divorce presently. Looking at the novel The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, the subject of divorce is looked as a scandal, sometimes even as a crime. In this novel, divorce can bring a huge stigma not only to the person going through the divorce, but also to his or her family. In the novel, Countess Ellen Olenska is wanting to divorce her husband who treated her cruelly. Yet because it is divorce, she has brought a stigma and a personal conflict to Newland Archer, who is marrying her cousin May Welland and representing her in the divorce. Since she is accused of running off with another man (a claim never proven or denied), she has been considered as committing adultery which at the time was a crime (26).

In the beginning of this novel, Archer has definite thoughts on divorce, which is reflective of the society at the time (9). When Madame Olenska comes to New York, his ideas on everything, including divorce, are turned onto their heads. Toward the middle of the novel, Archer urges Madame Olenska to actually divorce her husband and marry him, the very thing that he was once against (105). Before this, he persuaded her to be satisfied with separation, so that the names of the people in relation to her, including by marriage (i.e. Archer) would not be “tainted” (63). Later this separation does not prove to be enough, since she is cut off from the family money for refusing to go back to her husband (151-154, 158, 160).

Because of the scandal of considering divorce, Ellen was shunned by high society through the action of them declining invitations to meet her and dine with her family, the Mingotts, until Archer steps in to have the van der Luydens finally approve of her (30-37),...
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