Notes on The Age of Innocence Themes

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The Age of Innocence Topic Tracking: Places

Chapter 1

Places 1: The opera house is a central gathering place for the people of upper class New York society. Here, in this classy, genteel building, they can see all of the people in one room; the call boxes offer an excellent vantage point from which to gossip. Ellen's entrance at the opera house sparks the social scandal that will be the basis for the novel.

Places 2: At the opera house, Archer daydreams about taking May on a honeymoon by the Italian lakes. This imagined Italian honeymoon is the kind of honeymoon that New York society considers proper. Archer's act of imagination takes him outside of the confining New York that makes up his world, and places him on a completely different continent.

Chapter 2

Places 3: The members of New York society consider Ellen exotic because she comes from Europe. At the opera, Ellen stands out in a striking blue dress that looks as though it might come from the Old World. Part of their distrust and dislike of her might come from the foreign appearance that surrounds her.

Chapter 14

Places 4: Ellen flees to Skuytercliff, the van der Luydens' country estate, to escape Julius Beaufort and the social pressures of New York. Here, in this rural area, she is able to relax. When Archer sees her, she looks vivid and cheerful - quite unlike the unhappy woman he had last seen in the city.

Chapter 15

Places 5: May's family takes a yearly vacation to St. Augustine, Florida, where the warm weather is thought to help Mr. Welland's poor health. Archer's confusion over his feelings for Ellen lead him to find May in St. Augustine. He leaves a bleak, wintry New York - which reflects his own bleakness and confusion - for the sunny orange groves of Florida.

Chapter 20

Places 6: Archer and May spend three months in Europe on a traditional wedding tour. To Archer, his experience in Europe brings no relief from his daily life in New York. Even in Europe, he cannot escape the confining social traditions of New York society; May insists on following all of society's conventions during their time abroad.

Chapter 21

Places 7: May and Archer spend their second summer in Newport, Rhode Island. The rest of New York society is also vacationing in this affluent, seaside town. Rather than finding a refreshing change from the confining social customs of the city, Archer finds all of the conventions are simply uprooted and transplanted to the Newport community. He sees Ellen there, but cannot bring himself to actually speak to her.

Chapter 23

Places 8: Ellen leaves Newport to meet her husband's messenger in Boston. Archer follows her. Boston also has as a large, influential upper class, but Archer's ties are too New York society only; his trip to Boston is not complicated by anyone he knows there aside from Ellen. In Boston, once they are away from New York society, Ellen and Archer are finally able to clearly declare their love for each other.

Chapter 26

Places 9: Washington, D.C. is a place we hear about several times, but never actually visit in the novel. During the first year of Archer and May's marriage, Ellen lives in Washington with her aunt, the Marchioness Medora Manson. After their meeting in Boston, Archer wants to see Ellen so badly that he buys a ticket to Washington to visit her. When Mrs. Mingott suffers from the stroke, however, Ellen returns to New York, and Ellen and Archer never meet in Washington.

Chapter 29

Places 10: Archer wants to escape New York and its world of rigid, confining social codes; it prevents him from loving Ellen honestly and openly. At the Art Museum, he and Ellen have a heated discussion about what they can and should do about the intolerable situation that their love for each other has created. Archer tells Ellen that he longs to go to some imaginary world where the definitions and conventions of society don't exist and they can love each other freely and openly.

Chapter 33

Places 11: After May tells Ellen that she is pregnant, Ellen decides to return to Europe. With her return to Europe, Ellen shuts off any possibility for an affair with Archer.

Chapter 34

Places 12: At the end of the story, Archer visits Paris with his son, Dallas. He finally has a chance to see Ellen again, and with May dead, he is free to pursue his love for her that still remains. Paris, an ocean away from the New York society that had prevented the realization of their love, seems to be a perfect place to revisit his feelings for Ellen. However, Paris is a foreign world to Archer. He thinks about all the memories that Ellen has formed in a city unfamiliar to him. Feeling his love for Ellen must exist only in his youthful memories, Archer does not go upstairs to meet her, and returns to his hotel room.

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