The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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Fifth Avenue Symbol Analysis

Fifth Avenue Symbol Icon

Fifth Avenue is a luxurious area of New York City that, for Undine Spragg, acts as a metaphor for the cream of New York society, since it’s the physical location where many of the wealthiest and most important New Yorkers live. Notably, Fifth Avenue is famous not just as a place to live but also as a place full of luxury shops, suggesting that Undine’s dream of living on Fifth Avenue is directly tied to ideas about materialism. Undine Spragg can see Fifth Avenue out her window at the Stentorian, but rather than making her feel closer to Fifth Avenue, this just emphasizes to her that she hasn’t reached her goal of making it to the top of New York society yet. Fifth Avenue represents the constant cycle of striving, as well as the place in Undine’s imagination where the grass is always greener, and the people are always richer and more sophisticated.

Fifth Avenue Quotes in The Custom of the Country

The The Custom of the Country quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fifth Avenue. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
).
Chapter 2 Quotes

She went to the window, and drawing back its many layers of lace gazed eastward down the long brownstone perspective. Beyond the Park lay Fifth Avenue—and Fifth Avenue was where she wanted to be!

Related Symbols: The Stentorian, Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

The dinner too was disappointing. Undine was too young to take note of culinary details, but she had expected to view the company through a bower of orchids and eat pretty-coloured entrees in ruffled papers. Instead, there was only a low centre-dish of ferns, and plain roasted and broiled meat that one could recognize—as if they’d been dyspeptics on a diet! With all the hints in the Sunday papers, she thought it dull of Mrs. Fairford not to have picked up something newer; and as the evening progressed she began to suspect that it wasn’t a real “dinner party,” and that they had just asked her in to share what they had when they were alone.

Related Symbols: Fifth Avenue, Apex
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

It had become clear to Undine that Mabel Lipscomb was ridiculous. That was the reason why Popple did not come to the box. No one would care to be seen talking to her while Mabel was at her side. […] She had a way of trumpeting out her ignorances that jarred on Undine’s subtler methods. It was precisely at this point that there dawned on Undine what was to be one of the guiding principles of her career: “It’s better to watch than to ask questions.”

Related Symbols: The Stentorian, Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

But how long would their virgin innocence last? Popple’s vulgar hands were on it already—Popple’s and the unspeakable Van Degen’s! Once they and theirs had begun the process of initiating Undine, there was no knowing—or rather there was too easy knowing—how it would end!

Related Symbols: Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 38 Quotes

In a window of the long gallery of the chateau de Saint Desert the new Marquise de Chelles stood looking down the poplar avenue into the November rain. It had been raining heavily and persistently for a longer time than she could remember. Day after day the hills beyond the park had been curtained by motionless clouds, the gutters of the long steep roofs had gurgled with a perpetual overflow, the opaque surface of the moat been peppered by a continuous pelting of big drops.

Related Characters: Undine Spragg, Raymond de Chelles
Related Symbols: The Stentorian, Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 300
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

It was of no consequence that the details and the technicalities escaped her: she knew their meaningless syllables stood for success, and what that meant was as clear as day to her. Every Wall Street term had its equivalent in the language of Fifth Avenue, and while he talked of building up railways she was building up palaces, and picturing all the multiple lives he would lead in them. To have things had always seemed to her the first essential of existence, and as she listened to him the vision of the things he could have unrolled itself before her like the long triumph of an Asiatic conqueror.

Related Characters: Elmer Moffatt, Undine Spragg
Related Symbols: Apex, Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 46 Quotes

Even now, however, she was not always happy. She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them.

Related Characters: Undine Spragg, Elmer Moffatt
Related Symbols: Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 362
Explanation and Analysis:
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Fifth Avenue Symbol Timeline in The Custom of the Country

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fifth Avenue appears in The Custom of the Country. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
...Stentorian is white and gold, with a view of Central Park and a view of Fifth Avenue just past it. Undine begins to study the letter she received from Laura Fairford. She... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...Mabel’s circle isn’t high enough for her—what Undine really wants is to be part of Fifth Avenue society. Claud Popple was the first person from this higher New York society that Undine... (full context)
Chapter 14
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...cab back to her new home on West End Avenue—despite her desire to be on Fifth Avenue , West End was the best her father could afford. She was glad to be... (full context)
Chapter 26
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...that Mr. Spragg and Mrs. Spragg can’t move from the Stentorian to somewhere closer to Fifth Avenue . Undine finds it difficult to talk to her parents and goes silent whenever the... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Undine tries to stay away from the Fifth Avenue crowd, but she can’t avoid hearing about them in the society column of the papers... (full context)