The Age Of Innocence Essay

This essay has a total of 1208 words and 6 pages.


The Age Of Innocence





The Significance of The Unsaid in The Age of Innocence

“As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland’s, and he saw that she had
instantly understood his motive, though the family dignity which both considered so high a
virtue would not permit her to tell him so. The persons of their world lived in an
atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she
understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any
explanation would have done.” (Wharton 16) This statement vividly illustrates the
power of the unsaid within New York society during the 1870’s, the time in which The
Age of Innocence was set. At that time, there existed a powerful set of rules,
regulations, and codes pertaining to one’s conduct that were most often unspoken
and, therefore, were never “formally” outlined. However, this did not in any
way lessen the degree to which these standards were adhered to, and, thereby, upheld as if
they were carved in the same stone as the Ten Commandments. Because New York Society did
not have much need for religion, other than for rites of passage, the rules of society
were to them like rules of their religion. As a woman who was raised in this society,
Edith Wharton was able to illustrate with great clarity the influence that the unsaid had
when it came to knowing how one should behave if society is to look on them favourably.
She further goes on to express the perils of a life lived within these particular codes.

In the initial example used in the introduction, which took place in Chapter II of the
novel, the reader is not only able to see the reason for Newland Archer’s behaviour,
but the example also acts as a method of foreshadowing which alludes to the significant
role that that which is left unsaid would play within the novel. After having read the
entire novel, the reader would be able to reflect back and see this as the first of many
times where discussions were replaced by unspoken understandings, and where the correct
course of action is implied, but never spoken of directly. Although there are many times
in the novel where thoughts and feelings are left unsaid, there is no relationship more
affected by it than that of Newland Archer and May Welland/Archer.

Right from the initial example the reader can see that Newland and May subscribe wholly to
Society’s dictates concerning appropriateness of public behaviour. They do not
discuss the fact that Archer would like to announce the engagement earlier in order to
assist May’s family in protecting Ellen Olenska. In place of a discussion on this
issue, there exists an exchange of glances that Archer sees as a mutual understanding
between he and May. This understanding exists in this case, and in others yet to be
analyzed, without any verification of its accuracy having ever taken place.

The second time that the unsaid played an imperative role in the relationship of Newland
and May was in Chapter XVI when he had travelled to St.Augustine to advance the date of
their wedding. This is a paradoxical point in the novel where the reader may feel as if
May was abandoning all of the social customs in order to speak what was on her mind, yet
as the conversation progressed she spoke her mind only to an extent and the couple
subsequently left what would have been the most important part of their conversation
unsaid. May questioned whether or not there was another woman between them, but she ended
her questioning after having her suggestion of Archer’s previous mistress rebuffed.
This was one time where Archer seemingly could’ve told May about his feelings for
Ellen Olenska without further recourse, however Archer decided to hold fast to his
traditional values and avoided the embarrassment that such an announcement would have
brought.

The next, and possibly the most important, time in which the unsaid played a crucial role
in the novel were the circumstances surrounding Ellen Olenska’s final departure from
New York. When Newland had tried to revel his feelings for Ellen Olenska to May in Chapter
XXXII, May cut him off with her announcement that The Countess was planning on returning
to Europe. Arguably, May was attempting to leave unsaid something that she already knew.
For a long while she must have known of Newland’s affair with her cousin. This
brings into question all of the other circumstances surrounding Ellen Olenska’s
departure. Although it was never explicitly said in the novel, one could assume that upon
finding out about her pregnancy, May discussed the situation with her cousin Ellen in
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