Society Wasn’t Built In A Day: Societal Structure In The Age Of Innocence.

1874 words - 8 pages

The strict adherence to the societal traditions demonstrates the rigidity of people’s lives in this very structured society. The numerous traditions and formalities in New York’s society alludes to how little breathing room the people have when it comes to keeping traditions. One of these traditions is the tradition that “every year on the fifteenth of October, Fifth Avenue opened its shutters, unrolled its carpets, and hung up its triple layer of window curtains. By the first of November this household ritual was over and society had begun to look about and take stock of itself”(Wharton 205). So, Fifth Avenue in New York is known for “[opening] its shutters”, thus declaring itself open to the public to see, in all its splendor for the next sixteen days, from the “fifteenth of October” until “the first of November”. This tradition gives everyone the opportunity to view this amazing street in New York, which is historically known for its splendid shops and attractions. This time period is also symbolic because it is during Autumn, when all the greenery and summer feel. New York’s high society is and always was into fashion, so with the changing of the season came the changing of the fashion. The fashion hub in New York, historically has been on Fifth Avenue. So, this is why the opening of Fifth Avenue to all is so significant to the society living in New York. Of course, with new fashion comes new designs and new brands. The labels preferred by New York’s society were those that came from America because, as Stuart Hutchinson argues in his article, Sex, Race, and Class in Edith Wharton, “foreign objects and designs continually distinguished the residences preferred by individuals who did not conform to the architectural and behavioral standards of the most elite members of old New York society”(Hutchinson 435). Mr. Hutchinson is arguing that those people who were seen as preferring foreign items and customs were deemed to be “not [conforming] to the architectural and behavioral standards of [society]”, and thus a bit alienated in this American society. However, it is not solely fashion that defines culture in New York’s high society; the structure is also captured by the extreme etiquette shown in the novel. Etiquette is most closely attributed to class and respect. Someone who has very good etiquette is considered very classy and respectable. So, if someone grew up in a very etiquette based household, one could learn to expect to be treated with class and respect everywhere they went. So, when they encounter a situation in which this is not the case, one might expect that the person in that situation in that situation would feel a bit awkward. As is the case with Mr. Newland Archer. He found himself in one of these situations, which he describes by noting that, “his powers of observation were impaired by the oddness of finding himself in this strange empty house, where apparently no one expected him”(Wharton 57). Apparently, Archer has wandered...

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