EdithWharton’s Point of View in “The Age of Innocence”
In Edith Wharton’s“The Age of Innocence,” the narrative voice swiftly switches froma completely objective point of view to Newland Archer’s limitedpoint of view. Prior to, the objective point of view shown earlier inEdith Wharton’s work, helps the reader experience a historicalperiod sense (Wharton 152). The paper therefore, will look at thewriting and thoughts about the narrator’s point of view on thestrategy used by the author from Archer’s point of view, but notnecessarily having Archer become the narrator. To do this, the paperchooses one aspect in chapter XXII, which aims to provide answers inline with the chapter.
Before looking atthe aspect in the chapter, the overall point of view in EdithWharton’s “The Age of Innocence” draws a lot from thenarrator’s ability to peek into Archer’s point of view, whichgives the reader a sense of emotional mayhem. This allows the readerto continually check on his or her feelings and thoughts kept fromwithin for example in this sentence “Newland Archer stagnated andhe angrily looked away to light his cigarette. ‘Women should befree, as free as we men are,’ he declared. He made a discovery thatappeared to have been too irritated to even measure contagiousconsequences” (Wharton 156).
Chapter XXIIfocuses on the Blenkers, the family that houses Ellen. Newland Archerstrangely decides to visit the Blenkers with the hope of getting towhere Ellen has been living all this time. With the twist and turn ofevents, the Blenkers’ home is deserted, and he is informed thatEllen had moved to Boston.
From the abovesummary on the chapter, the main aspect that resonates through thechapter is that of travel and adventure. Edith Wharton managed tocreate doubts on the narrator’s adventure and on everything thatsurrounded Archer’s escapades, from when Archer went to theBlenker’s home, to missing Ellen, and finally to showing up inBoston (Wharton 155). The chapter highlights Archer’s point of viewbased on the colors that were associated with Ellen. An exoticismpoint of view establishes Archer’s believed in anything that isbrightly colored and exotic to be associated with Ellen.
The aspect ofadventure and freedom comes into live in the chapter from Ellen’spoint of view. Archer’s search of Ellen is characterized by EdithWharton allowing Ellen, who represents women, to have herintellectual freedom, feminine charms, and an artistic eye, whichcomes as an adventure. Wharton’s strategy to allow women to beadventures are exercise freedom brings into focus the strength of awoman at the time. For instance, rather than putting on the whitevirginal tulle wear, “Ellen is allowed to wear provocative-styledwear like the colored-blue velvet style” (Wharton 159). Through herstrength and confidence, which is brought into focus, her sittingroom in Boston for example, stands out.
The point of viewis highlighted by the narrator through Archer’s efforts to look forher to a point where he is forced to lie so that he can look for inBoston. In Boston, her adventure and freedom is experienced throughevery little thing she does. For instance, Archer’s perspective,while in Boston is shown through Ellen’s way of putting her pointacross. Ellen experimented with her house into something “foreign,intimate, and suggestive of the romantic scenes” (Wharton 163). Incomparison to Ellen’s hire house, her nostalgic embrace of the newCentury point of view is reflected by Wharton’s ability to compareit with the 1870s. The narrator sees the nostalgic New York throughthe new Century’s point of view by focusing on the hidden nature ofthe situation. Chapter XXII also described May as someone who is“peaceful, stable, and has a sense of inescapable duty.” (Wharton163).
Earlier on,Archer’s statement was not considered to be shocking, expect thatfrom the narrator’s point of view, allowing women have freedom andbe adventurous, the same way Ellen did by moving to Boston, meantthat the readers then has the ability to connect all the women.Archer is a man and his point of view on his strategies is broughtinto focus when he is with his wife, May, on their honeymoon. Wharton(165) noted that Archer, instead of hiding his strategies, made itclear when he reverted back to his old patterns of male social normsand gratification. While its readers fail to, Archer’s is hiddenfrom the realization that his wife, May, will eventually design hisold and monotonous days.
In light of thechapter, there is identity issue as far “The Age of Innocence”limited-omniscient third person narrative point of view is concerned.Here, limitations in terms of breaking out, having freedom, and beingadventurous, are only seen with Ellen. While Ellen is different,Wharton (158) noted that from a feminist point of view, theirstruggles to break out and find their way out were rampant in the oldworld, in the 1870s. In addition, Ellen is the chapter is portrayedas the symbol used by the narrator to break out, be adventurous, andchallenge social and old traditions. However, the narrator has doubtsand does not still believe on the idea of a social order coupled withdrastic change.
The hiddengratification of narrator’s point of view is related to irony.Ellen’s escapades in Boston may have led the readers about theirimpending affair between her and Archer. The ironic twist goes aheadover the hidden strategy by Archer, to a point that the referencemade on the Old New York is assumed that Archer and Ellen are at thecenter of steamy affair, and in reality, they both decided to pathways rather than created a notion and hurt those close to them.According to Wharton (160), even the choice of the title “The Ageof Innocence” drove the hidden irony twist towards an inevitablequestion about the narrator’s choice of the title. Chapter XXIIreveals the author’s hypocrisy, which result in the readerquestioning the “innocence.”
However, as much asthere is May’s purity, who was brought up to stay innocent, or atleast to feign ignorance, Archer’s perception of her couple withhis passion and discontent, May’s naively innocence believed in thelove affair, and that it could escape being seen by the society asadultery. The narrator’s thoughts and point of view, which is basedon the concept above is emphasized when he decides to lie to hiswife, May, about his real intentions (Wharton 161). His intentionsare the hidden irony considering by going to the Blenker’s, Archerrecklessly goes to Boston to be with Ellen. It is ironic that theaspect of adventure adopted by Ellen is unknowingly and recklesslyadopted by Archer. His longing to be with Ellen instead of being withhis wife, May, is the undefinable and incessant craving of a sickman.
In conclusion,Archer’s point of view brings forth a number of aspects in chapterXXII, but of importance are Ellen’s adventure and a sense offreedom. She represents all women in the current Century as opposedto the 1870s. Edith Wharton managed to bring forth an age of“innocence” in the book. The irony is as a result of the hiddenrealization by the characters that the roles ought to have existedoutside the things they are groomed on to be played in the society.
Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. Waiheke Island: FloatingPress, 2010, pp. 151-162. Internet resource.