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

2069 words - 9 pages

"In metropolises it was 'not the thing' to arrive early at the opera; and what was or was not 'the thing' played a part as important in Newland Archer's New York as the inscrutable totem errors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago"-Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence

Societies, like houses and businesses are built a certain way. They each have a certain way of functioning and placing some people above others. Throughout history, there are plenty examples of this concept, the best of which lies within the feudal system of Medieval Europe. Feudalism started with the Lords, who owned the land on which their Vassals worked and lived. The vassals did not run the place, and were seen as part of the base of the societal structure that supported the Lords by working their land for them. The same idea is depicted in the society Edith Wharton writes of in The Age of Innocence. In The Age of Innocence, the highest rung on the ladder that is high New York society is made up of those who are very wealthy and have people who work for them, or have people looking up to them for advice and/or help. Those below the top of the ladder, while still having some people who look up to them, also have people above them who they need to go to for help and other services, and so on and so forth as you go down the ladder. Now, the higher someone is on that ladder, the more “pure” they must be in order to project a good image to those below them, meaning they must be formal to a point and unwavering from that standard. Thus, in Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence, the characters strict adherence to traditions kept by New York’s high society demonstrates the rigid structure on which New York’s high class society is built upon.
The difference in architectural design between the classes of society demonstrates the constraints of a class-based society. The use of descriptions of architecture in the novel denotes the importance of architecture in society. At the beginning of the novel, it is evident that the characters preferred the Western way of life as “[Edith Wharton] repeatedly contrasted characters who preferred eclectic American buildings furnished with American antiques to those who opted for foreign, particularly French, designs”(Falk 23). Edith Wharton, according to Falk, contrasted characters who preferred the American style of architecture that included American antiques in its furnishings to those styles that had European furnishings or styles, suggesting that the “new order” of society must conform to the new, Western ways in order to be considered in good standing in society. Not only that, but each class in society had its own respective architecture and style. In essence, depending on which class you belonged to, you were required to build your house a certain way and wear certain types of clothing that people outside your class could not wear. The society was built in a very hierarchical way such that:
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