Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot of “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Age of Innocence” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : The Significance of the Title of “The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
One has to wonder if the title of “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton is, in itself, an ironic statement as the reader is forced to repeatedly question how innocent of a time this is and if innocence is merely an appearance and not a reality. Although the society in “The Age of Innocence" is highly organized and nuanced, it is merely that way so that indiscretions and actions that are anything but innocent can be hidden under the veneer of high society. For this essay on “The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton" reflect on the ironic undertones of the very title and how, if reading this novel for the first time, the reader would come to see that there is no innocence portrayed in the novel and how innocence is but part of the act that this society maintains. For a challenge, consider in a final paragraph what the functions of this duality between innocence and outright sin and the degradation of values might mean in the context of the society that so vehemently seems to desire to uphold a set of moral standards.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : The Role of Irony in “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton
Interestingly, one of the central premises of the beginning of the plot of “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton is that Newland Archer is being sent to talk the Countess Ellen Olenska out of getting a divorce and instead, he ends up falling in love with her and begging her to get one. Irony is a constant feature of the novel and appears both in many elements of the plot as well as in many of the major themes in “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton. Consider, for example, the theme of the individual versus society in the novel and how at once the strict social customs of the society are upheld as being the highest order that maintains society and structure yet then again, it is this same confining society that causes so much chaos in this text. These repeating opposites and ironic elements in “The Age of Innocence" are included not only in the title and its suggestion of what the reader can expect from the novel (see the above thesis statement for “The Age of Innocence" that examines this) make the novel complex as nothing is what it seems, even in a society that is all about appearances.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 : Characterization and the Death of an Innocent Society
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 frankly, more interesting to the reader than the characters who are a part of the old order. The most apparent example is the Countess Ellen Olenska who is undertaking the shocking task of divorcing her husband and moving, as an individual, to a country where she is unaware of the predominant custom and hierarchy and, more importantly, of what is and is not acceptable. She represents the death of the old order by demonstrating that even a woman of high birth and marriage is breaking out of traditional modes of gender roles and behavior just as other minor characters, such as those with new wealth like the Beaufort family as well as Mrs. Mingott attempt to create an entirely new class with its own combination of old and new society. The new society that is emerging out the innocence with the death (literal and metaphorical) of families such as Mrs. Van der Luyden, is one that emphasizes expression and a more overt way of appreciating wealth.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 : Character Analysis of Newland Archer in “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton
Any character analysis of Newland Archer in “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton will reveal, just as an examination of any of the major themes or characters also will, a set of complex dualities. On the one hand, Newland Archer considers himself to be a man that appreciates the high social life that his society offers but inwardly, he recognizes it for being incredibly shallow and stifling. He often gives lip service to the idea that he is a man that is above others in his recognition of the fact that his society is out of touch with reality and that lives in a dream-world where any unpleasantness is ignored and true character is shunned in favor of conformity but on the other hand, he also embraces this society. His impedning marriage to May Welland is one of the most symbolic acts he makes on behalf of upholding the values of a society he seems so often to scorn, which demonstrates that despite what he says, he is just as much a part of the society, if not more, than those he surrounds himself with. A character analysis of Newland Archer should examine this duality in how he perceives and then backs up and represents some of the unpleasant aspects of his society and should conclude by offering an analysis of how, by choosing not to see the Countess years later, choosing instead to live in the dream world she inhabits in his own mind, he has succeeded in completely embracing his society.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5 : Symbolic Names in “The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton
It is important to pay close attention to the names of characters in “The Age of Innocence" as they are symbols of the people who bear them and have significance in the context of the major themes about society in the novel. For example, the name May Welland indicates a bright summer day in well land. In short, it is representative of her rosy view of life and her idealized depiction of femininity. The name Countess Ellen Olenska has an air of mystery and of being from foreign parts that cannot be identified by the name alone. Names such as Beauford are, just as the Beaufords, very common and do not descend from any royal line whereas names such as van der Luydens is unique and is related to names of Dukes and ambassadors. The name Newland Archer is interesting because Newland is encountering new lands and, like an archer, is aiming his sights and cupid’s arrow into these new lands and away from the stifling society he lives in. In a broader context, names are important to this society in general as it represents the old order when the last name is associated with a certain social class.
This list of important quotations from “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “Age of Innocence” above, these quotes alone with page numbers can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way.
[Of Mrs. Manson Mingott] “his bold young widow went her way fearlessly, mingled freely in foreign society, married her daughters in heaven knew what corrupt and fashionable circles, hobnobbed with Dukes and Ambassadors, associated familiarly with Papists, entertained Opera singers, and was the intimate friend of Mme. Taglioni…there had never been a breath on her reputation" (11).
“But when he gone the brief round of her he returned discouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence were only an artificial product. Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent; it was full of the twists and defenses of an instinctive guile. And he felt himself opposed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestress, because it was supposed to be what he wanted…" (43).
“…if we don’t all stand together, there’ll be no such thing as Society left" (48).
It was undeniably exciting to meet a lady who found the van der Luydens’ Duke dull, and dared to utter the opinion. He longed to question her, to hear more about the life of which her careless words had given him so illuminating a glimpse; but he feared to touch on distressing memories… (61).
“It is confoundedly dull anyhow; New York is dying of dullness," Beaufort grumbled. (87)
“He [Newland] was…trying to picture the society in which the Countess Olenska had lived and suffered, and also—perhaps—tasted mysterious joys. He remembered with what amusement she had told him that her grandmother Mingott and the Wellands objected to her living in a “Bohemian" quarter given over to ‘people who wrote.’ It was not the peril but the poverty that her family disliked; but that shade escaped her and she supposed they considered literature compromising" (104).
“The individual…is nearly always sacrificed to what is supposed to be the collective interest: people cling to any convention that keeps the family together—protects the children, if there are any’ he rambled on, pouring out all the stock phrases that rose to his lips in his intense desire to cover the ubly reality which her silence seemed to have laid bare" (110).
“he did not want May to have that kind of innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience!" (145).
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Used electronic text which can be found here http://books.google.com/books?id=kmMeAAAAMAAJ&dq=Amazon.com+age+of+innocence+wharton&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0