The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence

Flowers Symbol Icon

In this book, flowers are used to represent the opposition between innocence and experience. May is always carrying white flowers, usually lilies-of-the-valley. In fact, Archer sends her a bouquet of these flowers every day of their engagement. White is traditionally symbolic of purity and virginity, and the lilies-of-the-valley act as a reminder of May’s state of innocence about sexual and worldly matters. The association between lilies-of-the-valley and May is strengthened by the flower’s scientific name, maialis, which translates to “of or belonging to May.” However, lilies-of-the-valley are also highly poisonous, which implies that May’s innocence, though beautiful in the eyes of society, can ultimately be more harmful than beneficial. Ellen Olenska, on the other hand, is associated with the yellow roses that Archer sends her. Though he considers sending them to May, he thinks their color is too strong for her, suggesting that they fit better with Ellen’s boldness and experience of the world. May and Ellen act as contrasting characters throughout the book, and their differences are symbolized by the flowers Archer gives each of them.

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Flowers Symbol Timeline in The Age of Innocence

The timeline below shows where the symbol Flowers appears in The Age of Innocence. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
...behind them. As she watches Madame Nilsson sing, she blushes and touches a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on her knee. (full context)
Chapter 3
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
...May are standing by the ballroom door. Couples are dancing beyond them. May is holding lilies-of-the-valley and standing with a group of young people, to whom she is revealing her engagement.... (full context)
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
...and does kiss her. He brings her to a less secluded sofa and takes a lily-of-the-valley from her bouquet. (full context)
Chapter 9
American vs. Foreign Theme Icon
...seem foreign and romantic, and he tries to figure out what it is about the roses and the perfume that makes it seem so. (full context)
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
...returns to normal. He goes to a florist to send May her daily bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley, realizing he forgot to do so that morning. He sees instead some yellow roses, but... (full context)
Chapter 10
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
...is proud of her. She says she loves the fact that Archer remembers to send flowers each day rather than putting in a standing order. He admits that he sent Ellen... (full context)
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
...der Luyden says that he’s just been to see her, and she had arranged the flowers he’d sent her in an incredibly charming way. He would like to bring his wife... (full context)
Chapter 12
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
American vs. Foreign Theme Icon
...out of place. Beaufort is leaning on the mantelpiece, and a table is filled with flowers that he’s brought. It’s customary for ladies to wear simple dinner dresses in the evenings,... (full context)
Chapter 13
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
...Ellen quietly asks whether Archer thinks that the play character will send his lover yellow roses. Archer blushes. He has anonymously sent Ellen roses each time he has visited her, but... (full context)
Chapter 14
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
Change and Progress Theme Icon
The next morning, Archer goes looking for more yellow roses. He arrives late at the office and realizes that no one cares, which makes him... (full context)
Chapter 17
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
...Ned Winsett and a large older man. They’re all looking at a huge bouquet of flowers lying on the sofa. (full context)
Chapter 18
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
...shimmering dress and looking like she’s ready for a ball. Medora Manson points out the flowers. Ellen grows suddenly angry, saying the bouquet is ridiculous. She calls Nastasia and tells her... (full context)
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
...comes in with a telegram. She says that Winsett’s wife cried with happiness at the flowers, thinking Winsett had sent them. Ellen opens the telegram. It’s from May, and she says... (full context)
Chapter 19
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
...other wedding traditions, with resignation. He has done everything right, sending bouquets of lilacs and lilies-of-the-valley to the bridesmaids and cufflinks to the ushers. He’s packed to leave after the wedding,... (full context)
Chapter 21
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
Change and Progress Theme Icon
The lawn stretches to the sea, decorated with flowers and vases along a path. There are two archery targets between the cliff and the... (full context)
Chapter 34
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
Change and Progress Theme Icon
Archer knows that he has missed “the flower of life,” but it seems so unattainable that he hardly mourns it. Only Ellen Olenska... (full context)