Notes on The Age of Innocence Themes

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The Age of Innocence Topic Tracking: Marriage

Topic Tracking: Marriage

Chapter 1

Marriage 1: As he daydreams at the opera, Archer imagines a traditional type of marriage in which he will be a teacher and his wife, a student. Even his fantasy about their honeymoon is a traditional daydream about the classic Italian lakes by which he will introduce May to a classic piece of literature.

Chapter 2

Marriage 2: The men in the call-box view Ellen suspiciously. They have heard whispered rumors of the scandal that surrounds her: she had left her husband for another. She threatens the idea of a stable marriage with which they all were raised. Her independence frightens and horrifies them. Although Archer doesn't feel threatened by Ellen, he also looks down on her based on the scandalous rumors of her past, and he is embarrassed to see her sitting with his fiancée's family.

Chapter 3

Marriage 3: Archer and May both see their marriage as a tool to draw attention away from Ellen. They decide to announce their engagement earlier than a couple normally would. After the opera, all of society goes to the Beaufort's ball; May and Archer announce it there. Even though a ball is normally considered a rather crude and unrefined place to make such an important announcement, they want society to associate their family with this good news as soon as possible, to avoid any gossip about Ellen.

Chapter 4

Marriage 4: While his mother and Janey criticize Ellen over dinner, Archer finds himself defending her decision to escape her marriage to Count Olenski. He even tells Janey that he hopes Ellen will get a divorce. When Sillerton Jackson informs Archer that Ellen might have had an affair with her husband's secretary, Archer defends the marital freedom of women - something he has never done before. Archer is beginning to question the fairness of marriage as it is practiced in New York society.

Chapter 6

Marriage 5: Archer thinks about marriage after the gossip-filled dinner with his mother, sister, and Sillerton Jackson. He realizes that knowing Ellen has changed the traditional ideas about marriage with which he was raised (such as the rule that men must conceal their past romances from their wives).

Chapter 9

Marriage 6: When Archer visits Ellen for the first time, he has the opportunity to see a house unlike any other he has visited in New York. Ellen's exotic, unconventional sitting room makes him think about the house that he and May will own together. Archer begins to feel that his upcoming marriage will trap him in an elegant house for the rest of his life.

Chapter 11

Marriage 7: Ellen asks Letterblair, Lamson, and Low, attorneys-at-law (Archer's law firm) to handle her divorce suit. Archer's reluctance to persuade Ellen against it surprises Mr. Letterblair, who had assumed that Archer, like any sensible member of New York society, would be eager to prevent the scandal of divorce from falling on his future family. Archer, though, is too caught up with Ellen to really care about the negative reputation a divorce would bring upon his family.

Chapter 12

Marriage 8: As Ellen tells Archer of her painful, difficult marriage to Count Olenski, Archer finds himself sympathizing with her. He can now see the human side of the rumors behind her divorce; he can see what a disastrous marriage would be like through a woman's perspective.

Chapter 15

Marriage 9: When Archer follows Ellen to Skuytercliff, he realizes the depth of his romantic feelings for her. In her note to him, Ellen offers to give him an explanation for Julius Beaufort's surprise appearance at Skuytercliff. Archer chooses to ignore the note. He is frightened that his fascination with Ellen is affecting the way in which he thinks about May. Archer wants the safety of believing in his old, traditional ideas of marriage.

Chapter 18

Marriage 10: Archer visits Ellen after his trip to St. Augustine. For the first time, they fully realize (and admit to themselves) their love for each other. Once Archer comes to this realization, he is even willing to call off his wedding to May and publicly admit his love for Ellen.

Chapter 20

Marriage 11: During their wedding tour of Europe, Archer realizes that May truly was raised to act the part of the perfect New York society wife. At the beginning of the novel, he had harbored grand plans of opening her mind to the world. Now that he's married, he realizes that his plans would be wasted on May; she can't imagine any other type of marriage than the one they have. Archer has given up his radical plan, and is reconciling himself to living with society's traditional ideas about women and marriage.

Chapter 29

Marriage 12: At the Art Museum, Ellen and Archer try to find a solution to the problems that their love for each other has created. Archer is extremely frustrated with New York society's narrow definition of marriage, and feels completely trapped in his marriage to May. He wants to love Ellen, and be in a place where they can express their love for each other freely. His love for Ellen far outweighs any for his wife, but the consequences of leaving May for Ellen would be grave for both of their families.

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