The Age of Innocence


Edith Wharton

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Age of Innocence makes teaching easy.

The Age of Innocence: Style 1 key example

Chapter 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Wharton’s writing style in The Age of Innocence is characterized by both evocative figurative language and direct dialogue. This is tied to the fact that the story is told from a limited omniscient perspective (or “close third”)—though the narration is third-person, the narrator essentially channels Archer’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Wharton’s writing style captures the fact that Archer has deep emotions and opinions (such as his desire for Ellen and his frustrations with the restrictive rules of New York society) but holds them back in favor of fitting in and acting well-mannered.

This combination of emotional figurative language and dispassionate dialogue comes across in the following passage during Archer and May’s wedding:

“Darling!” Archer said—and suddenly the same black abyss yawned before him and he felt himself sinking into it, deeper and deeper, while his voice rambled on smoothly and cheerfully: “Yes, of course I thought I’d lost the ring; no wedding would be complete if the poor devil of a bridegroom didn’t go through that.”

This passage effectively captures the dissonance between Archer’s inner and outer experiences, and likely those of many people in their society where manners and appearance are everything. Archer pictures a “black abyss yawn[ing] before him” that he “is sinking into”—extreme language that suggests he is experiencing a high degree of distress—while “his voice rambled on smoothly and cheerfully.” This smooth and upbeat quality to Archer's voice comes across in the style of his simple and direct dialogue.

That this gulf between inner feelings and outer performance is happening in the moment that Archer is getting married to May is also significant, as it hints that this marriage is not going to offer him the opportunity to fully be himself (which proves to be true).