Age Of Innocence Essay, Research Paper
Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-5
Chapter One Summary: The play opens at the opera. Newland Archer enters his opera box and looks out across the theater to see his girlfriend, May Welland, touch the lilies he had given her. While dreaming of their future together, his thoughts are interrupted by gasps from the gentlemen sitting with him. They are whispering about a fashionably dressed woman who has just sat down in the box with May. Sillerton Jackson gasps, “I did not think they would have tried it on,” which means, he can+t believe the Mingotts would allow the woman to come and sit in their box at the Opera.
Analysis: This is a book about the conventions of “Old New York”, New York City in the 1870+s. Wharton loves contrasting the old against the new. She begins these contrasts in the very first paragraph. Here she describes the new Opera theater that is going to be erected in the “remote” forties. We can assume that the forties have been built up since then and people reading her book in the 1920+s (when it was published) would enjoy hearing about how New York has changed. Along these lines, there is also a description of the old people versus the “new people, whom NY was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to.”
Also important in this first chapter is Wharton+s discussion of fashionability and propriety. We can tell from the way that Newland Archer, Lawrence Lefferts and Mr. Silverton Jackson are introduced (all are so concerned with what is “moral” and “the thing”) that Wharton will spend a lot of time in the novel discussing and perhaps critiquing these concepts in the book.
Of note, as well, is the great attention to detail that Wharton has. The way she describes clothing and interior decoration with much detail has led many to dub this book a “costume novel”. We will have to see for ourselves if the book develops beyond being a “bodice ripper” sort of book.
May Welland will be one of the most important characters in the book. She is holding Lillies of the Valley. In the 1870+s the lily of the valley was the flower of chastity and of the names Cynthia and Diana. Later in the book, May is often compared to Diana, the Greek goddess of the hunt.
Chapter Two Summary: Newland becomes annoyed as he realizes that everyone is paying attention to the box where his fianc is sitting. He doesn+t want the woman to whom he is engaged to be associated with a woman of questionable reputation. The strange woman is Ellen Olenska, a cousin of May. She has a bad reputation because she left her husband and ran off with his secretary. In New York Society, such behavior was not accepted. Newland suddenly wishes to sit next to his girlfriend, as if to protect her from the gossip. He also has a sudden urge to announce their engagement because he wants to distract attention from the foreign woman and place attention on the happy occasion of their engagement. He walks over to their box and is introduced to Ellen. Ellen explains that she remembers being kissed by him when they were little children and that returning to New York reminds her of her childhood. She can “see” everyone in their childhood underpants. Newland does not like her referring to New York society as being “a dear old place.” He considers his society to be a grand institution and Ellen seems to be slighting this society.
Analysis: Here we see how Newland is fixated with Taste. He is annoyed that his fianc may be associated with a woman of ill-repute; he thinks that Ellen+s dress is too revealing and that the Mingotts should have not brought her to the Opera.
Also interesting in this chapter is the motif of the military: “Form was the mere visible representative and vicegerent of Taste . . .” Thorley “entered the lists” as the ladies champion. Against whom are these members of New York Society mobilizing against?
It is also interesting to examine which words are capitalized. Society, Family, Taste are capitalized words because they seem to Newland to be inflexible institutions that are very important.
The remark that “the persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies” is important as well. Will Newland be satisfied with this world?
There is also a bit of foreshadowing in that Newland had kissed Ellen when she was little and that Ellen remembered the event. Is there some possibility of romance here?
Food is an important motif in this book. Mrs. Manson Mingott and Mrs. Archer are looked down upon because they do not serve good food.
Contrast is another important literary tool here. The old brownstone architecture is contrasted against the new cream-colored stones of the new inductees of the society. Ellen Olenska+s dark hair and red clothing are often contrasted against May+s blonde hair and white dress.
Chapter Three Summary: After the Opera, everyone goes to the Beauforts+ home for the annual ball. He keeps a huge room in his house dedicated solely to the annual ball. It sits vacant 364 days in the year. There, May announces to friends that she is engaged. Newland and May dance and, as is appropriate, sit alone in the conservatory where they sneak a kiss while no one is looking. Newland asks if Ellen has come to the ball; he hopes that she has not come because of her ill reputation. May replies that Ellen did not feel her dress was pretty enough to attend the ball, so she went home. Newland is glad that May understands propriety so well that she know when not to discuss the “real” reason why Ellen decided not to come: her bad reputation.
Analysis: In this chapter, it is important to see how reputation is discussed in such depth. The Beaufort+s reputation is discussed; the grandness of their ballroom is discussed.
Also, of note, Newland fibs for the first time to May in this chapter; and, his fib concerns Ellen.
Clothing is an important motif in this books. Beaufort+s servants have silk stockings; Ellen+s clothes are the excuse for why she does not attend the ball. Clothes serve a deep purpose in this novel; it is important to watch each detail of clothing so that we can understand at the end why such emphasis is placed on wardrobe.
Another interesting motif is the idea of immortality in the members of New York Society. Mrs. Beaufort, here, is presented as sort of immortal. She “grows younger and blonder and more beautiful each year.” As we continue reading we will find more examples of how people in this society seem to never age, defying death.
Chapter Four Summary: As is customary for newly engaged people, Newland calls on Mrs. Welland and May and together they go to Mrs. Manson Mingott+s home to ask her blessing for the marriage. Her home “lacks propriety” because her drawing room is on the same floor as the bedroom. To Newland+s and May+s relief, Ellen is not home; she has gone out shopping during the main “shopping hour” which lacks propriety as well. Mingott of course gives her blessing and encourages Newland and May to marry soon, “before the bubble+s off the wine.” As May, Newland and Mrs. Welland are leaving, Ellen returns with Beaufort. Newland apologizes to Ellen for not having told her of the engagement at the Opera. Ellen understands that it isn+t proper to reveal such things in crowds. Ellen asks Archer to come and visit some time, but Newland thinks to himself how inappropriate such a visit would be.
Analysis: This chapter is a long discourse on propriety. There is a little bit of foreshadowing in that Mingott encourages the two to marry soon perhaps there is trouble beneath the surface that Mingott recognizes?
Also, we see the motif of immortality shine through in the character of Mrs. Catherine Manson Mingott. Catherine is the grand matriarch of New York Society. She is also similar to Mrs. Beaufort in that she never ages. Her face and body are so fat that she seems to have never wrinkled, despite her old age. Her never wrinkling makes it seem that she retains her youth.
Chapter Five Summary: Sillerton Jackson comes to dine with the Archers. Janey and Mrs. Archer want to hear the recent gossip on Ellen Olesnka. They began conversation discussing Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, who apparently was just a model for Mr. Struthers before they married. Then Ellen was discussed. Jackson said that she had not attended the ball and Mrs. Archer was glad of it. Janey ridicules Ellen+s dress; Mrs. Archer says that Ellen was bound to grow up strangely since she was permitted to wear black satin at her coming out ball. Newland defends Ellen and says that she should be able to act however she pleases since it isn+t her fault that she happened to have married a brute. Later, while the ladies retreat to work on a tapestry for May, the men smoke in the Gothic library. Newland remarks that “Women ought to be free.”
Analysis: This chapter is significant because Newland+s opinion of Ellen has changed; he now defends her and her actions; although he still believes in decorum he has taken a stance in his family that Ellen should not be blamed. What has caused this change of mind?Also, there is some indication of Newland+s “past”. What happened between him and the Rushworth woman? Does he feel, in some ways, similar to Ellen?
Later in the book, Janey is referred to as Cassandra-like. Cassandra is, in Greek mythology, an unfortunate gossip who tells the future although no one believes her. We see Janey+s role as the gossip first manifests here.
Freedom is an important theme in this novel. Newland says that women should be free. But one of the central issues in the book is whether or not Newland, himself, is free. If he is not free, then how can he grant freedom? Is Ellen free? What about May? It is she whom Newland wishes to free the most, and yet, she may turn out to have more freedom than any other character in the novel. In which case, it is deeply ironic that Newland could wish for her freedom in the first place.
Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-10
Chapter Six Summary: For the first time, Newland has doubts about his marriage. He feels that May+s “innocence” is a contrivance of society, too fabricated to be real. He feels uncomfortable taking such an innocent woman as his wife, trading her blank page for his “page with a past.” He worries that all the men around him of “perfect form” like Lawrence Lefferts lead horrible marriages of deceit and is worried that such a fate could become his own. After all, he hasn+t confided any of his “real self” to May; perhaps they will always live their lives in secret from each other.
Then, the Lovell Mingotts decide to throw a reception for Ellen Olenska. But, all the people of good society reject the invitation. So, Mrs. Welland tells this to Newland and Newland tells his mother. Mrs. Archer then goes to tell her friend Louisa van der Luyden, who is one of the most reputable women in New York society.
Analysis: Ellen+s arrival has clearly initiated for Newland some sort of deep critical thinking about society and his bride-to-be. Newland criticizes the innocence of his bride to be a sham, a fa ade. Perhaps this is the ironic commentary that we should understand as being behind the title.
It is also deeply ironic that the “high-priest of form” is the one who has all sorts of affairs. Why does this society (which is so concerned with propriety) seem so corrupt at its base?
Names are a point of interest in this book. Janey notes that she thinks Ellen should have changed her name to Elaine.
Chapter Seven Summary: Mrs. Archer and Newland discuss the problem of Ellen+s reception with Mrs. Van der Luyden, who insists that she must discuss the problem with her husband. Mrs. Archer insists that Larry Lefferts discouraged everyone from coming in order to distract attention from his own affairs with women; Mr. Van der Luyden says that as long as the Mingotts have accepted Ellen into their family then everyone else should accept her into society as well. Since he and his wife cannot attend the dinner in the Leffertses place, due to Louisa+s health, they instead invite Ellen to a reception dinner with the Duke of St. Austrey. This reception is of such high prestige that it exonerates Ellen of any marks on her reputation.
Analysis: This chapter is interesting because it reveals the many levels of stratification in New York society. When Ellen is “judged” by the Leffertses, Mrs. Archer can appeal to a higher authority: the van der Luydens, who are indisputably of better reputation. This chapter gives a deep sense of the politics of the times.
Also interesting is the description of the “immortal” nature of the van der Luydens. Mrs. van der Luyden is described as “looking exactly like her portrait;” like Catherine, earlier, van der Luyden never ages. She seems “rather gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of a perfectly irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in glaciers keep for years a rosy life-in-death.” There are many reasons why Wharton chooses to describe her this way. Perhaps Wharton is trying to draw a dichotomy between the “mortals” and the immortals”. The mortals are people like Ellen Olenska, Ned Winsett (whom we meet later) and regular common folks. These people are alive; they age and they are relatively left out of the scheme of the great New York Society. People who are “immortal” are the van der Luydens, the Mingotts, the Archers, the Wellands, the Leffertses. These families are like the gods of the New York pantheon. In making clear this distinction, Wharton can play with the problem of categorizing Newland. Is he a mortal or an immortal? Where does he fit in?
Another reason why these great families may be described as “alive but dead” is that they are quietly losing power as time moves on. Wharton is clear in telling us that the great American aristocracies are dying dinosaurs in the early twentieth century. By describing them as, already in a sense, dead, she can drive home the point that much of this codified society is already beginning to die out.
Chapter Eight Summary: This chapter gives some background on Ellen+s past. Ellen+s parents had been avid travelers and they died early in Ellen+s life. She lived with her aunt Medora Manson who was sort of eccentric. She would dress Ellen in crimson merino and amber beads and did not allow her to mourn for her parents as long as was “proper”.
She was the only young woman present at the reception for the Duke. After dinner, to many people+s surprise, the Duke headed straight to Ellen where they talked for a while. Then, she left his side, (which was an inappropriate thing for a woman to do) and sat next to Newland. Ellen asks if Newland+s engagement to May was arranged or just sheerly romantic. Newland balks no marriages are arranged in America, he says. Upon getting up, she tells Newland that she expects him to visit her tomorrow after five PM (although no plans had been set). Then, there is a line of people ready to speak to Ellen; these are the same people that had rejected the invitation to meet her earlier.
Analysis: This chapter is full of ironies. First, Newland becomes enraptured with Ellen because she defies propriety yet, this is the one thing that is supposed to make her unacceptable. For example, she explains that the Duke is very dull and Newland thinks it is “undeniably exciting” that she would know him well enough to make the claim and be uninhibited enough to express it. Also ironic is that Newland would claim that his relationship with May is just romantic when it is clear that they are together simply because they are the “perfect match” in terms of the family backgrounds and not because they had fallen in love on their own. It is also ironic that although May is incredibly beautiful, it is the touch of Ellen+s fan that excites him like a caress. Also, it is the Duke who finds May the “most handsome woman in the room”; yet, he is incredibly dull. It makes us wonder if May is handsome only to “dull” people. Is Newland beginning to break from convention and take less interest in her?
This chapter is also brilliant in that Wharton clearly articulates some of the stranger codes of this society. Women should not, for example, leave a man+s side and walk across a room unescorted to join the company of another man. Why are these codes important to this society? Are they stifling or liberating?
Also, the contrast between May and Ellen is striking and important in this chapter. Ellen is described as aging; with “paled red cheeks.” May, on the other hand, looks like an immortal goddess, dressed in white like “Diana alighting from the chase.” When Ellen is described, she is always described by her humanness she ages, looks plain and experienced. May is described as superhuman and impossibly innocent in her brilliant white. This contrast runs through the novel.
Chapter Nine Summary: Newland arrives at Ellen+s home in the artist district at five after five. He had had a bad day; he felt like a “wild animal cunningly trapped” because he had been forced to go from home to home announcing his engagement to May. He does not tell May of his meeting with Ellen. When he gets to Ellen+s home she is not there and he relaxes in her living room admiring her exotically decorated home. When she arrives, she explains that she had spent the day with Julius Beaufort looking for a new home because others do not find her home fashionable enough. Ellen is flippant about how she finds New York so safe like a little girl+s paradise. Newland thinks that she should not be so na ve about how “powerful an engine” New York is and how she almost was crushed by it. She remarks how she had enjoyed the party at the van der Luydens; Archer says its unfortunate that they do not “receive very often.” Ellen, cleverly says, “Perhaps that+s the reason for their great influence.” They continue in this manner until the Duke of St. Austrey arrives with Mrs. Struthers. Struthers had not been invited to the Luydens+ party and she had wanted to meet Ellen and invite her to a party at her home. Soon after their arrival, Newland leaves. On his way home, he stops at the florist to send May her daily lilies. He decides to send her the flowers; but he also sends an anonymous bouquet of flaming yellow roses to Ellen.
Analysis: In this chapter, Newland falls in love with Ellen, as signified by his calling her “Ellen” instead of “Madame Olenska.” In a society as proper as New York in the 1890s, calling a woman by her first name indicated that there was a significant emotional tie. He loves her because she defies the rules of society by seemingly not understanding them. She makes light of the powerful figures Manson Mingott and the van der Luydens. She is close friends with one of the most respectable figures — the Duke while simultaneously friends with Beaufort, a man of no reputation.
Also, intriguing is the fact that Ellen believes New York society to be plain and straightforward: “I thought it so up and down like Fifth Avenue. And with all the cross streets numbered.” Whereas Newland says, “Everything may be labeled but everyone is not.” This is ironic, too, because everyone is labeled people judge each other by family name.
Another theme in the novel is suggested by Ellen when she says, “The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend.” The book is about pretenders; everyone pretends to be something they are not; everyone but Ellen. Newland was frustrated in a prior chapter by the realization that he, too, is being forced to pretend in his relationship with May.
Chapter 10 Summary: May and Newland go for a walk in the park. May thanks him for sending her flowers every day and remarks that it is nice that she gets them at different times of the day; it means he thinks each day to send her flowers, unlike Larry Lefferts who had a standing order for Gertrude+s flowers to be sent each day. Newland tells May that he sent Ellen beautiful roses but May remarks that Ellen had not discussed them, although she had discussed flowers from other friends. Newland changes the subject and remarks that their engagement seems very long; May says that everyone else has had similarly long engagements. Newland feels like all of May+s comments have been fed to her by others and wonders how long it will be until she can speak for herself. He worries that when he takes her bandage of innocence off her eyes, she won+t be able to see anything. He suggests that they travel and May remarks that he is terribly original. Then Newland shouts, “Original? We+re all like each other as those dolls cut out of the same folded paper.” On the suggestion of elopement, May balks, “We can+t behave like people in novels, though, can we?”
Later, Archer skips his regular trip to the club for fear that his life is becoming to repetitive and predictable. While he is reading novels in his study, Janey tells him that the Countess has gone to a party at Mrs. Struthers. This is horrible, of course, because Struthers is too “common.” Newland remarks that he is “not married to Countess Olenska” and has nothing to do with her affairs. Luckily, Henry van der Luyden comes for a visit and does not blame Ellen for her attending the party. She probably just doesn+t understand convention. Henry+s nonchalance about the affair puts Mrs. Archer+s heart at ease: decorum is still intact.
Analysis: Here we see a deepening of Newland+s infatuation with Ellen. He vocalizes “I+m not engaged to be married to the Countess Olenska” as if he is truly voicing his own desire. He also says, “Ellen was the best looking woman [at the van der Luyden+s party]” without even considering May.
Also important is the theme of reading in this novel; perhaps Newland is getting his fantastic ideas about what romance and love should be like from his novels. Are the novels to blame for his love of the “exotic” and his infatuation with Ellen? Does May recognize Newland+s new literature-induced impulses? Is this why she says, “We can+t live like people in novels”?
Also, the fungibility of decorum is displayed in this chapter. Mrs. Archer is totally afraid that Ellen+s behavior is out of place, but when Henry van der Luyden is ready to place the blame for her actions on the Duke, Ellen+s actions are vindicated. We see that morality in this society is quite flexible and dependent upon what those in “power” dictate.
Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-15
Chapter Eleven Summary: Newland is a junior lawyer and is asked by one of the senior partners, Mr. Letterblair, to advise Ellen Olenska in her divorce. Archer reads the papers and decides that Ellen should not divorce; but when he listens to Mr. Letterblair argue that she should not divorce, he realizes how self-righteous he sounds and believes the best thing would be to talk to Ellen first before he unilaterally condemns her decision.
Analysis: Newland disregards propriety to allow for Ellen+s freedom, or so he believes. There is a lot in this chapter that deals with facades and hidden intentions. The first question that we must ask is, why is Newland chosen to convince Ellen not to divorce? On first glance, it seems that he is chosen because family members think it is in his best interest to curtail any bad gossip in his fiance+s family. Hence, he should want to keep her from divorcing, out of a selfish desire to make his new marriage successful. However, there is another possible answer perhaps, members of May+s family have noticed that Newland seems interested in Ellen and they want to force him to understand the mandates of propriety. So, they place him in the position where either he does the “right” thing, makes Ellen choose not to divorce or does the “wrong” thing, encourages Ellen to divorce so she can be free to remarry anyone. Perhaps society is using this predicament as a litmus test of Newland+s character.
Chapter Twelve Summary: Unlike the members of New York Society, Ellen has no fear of literature. Archer reflects on this fact and the fact that Ellen has the mysterious ability to “reverse his values” as he walks to her home.
Newland walks through the snowy night and arrives at Ellen+s home. Beaufort is there, trying to woo her away from her trip to Skuytercliff. Skuytercliff is the vacation home of the van der Luydens. Ellen tells Beaufort to leave because she has business with Archer. Newland is there to discuss the divorce. Newland encourages Ellen not to divorce because there is no way she can prove her innocence from a love affair after she left her husband. For this reason, she will be scandalized by the papers. Ellen agrees with Newland reluctantly.
Analysis: Ellen pleads that she wants to be the same as everyone else; that, and her freedom, are what drive her desire for a divorce. This is ironic because it is Newland+s desire to have a life different than everyone else+s that leaves him dissatisfied with his engagement. It is these opposing needs which draw them together. It is how they fulfill each other.
Chapter Thirteen Summary: On a crowded night at the Wallack+s theater, Newland Archer attends a showing of Shaughraun for the love of one scene: two lovers parting in silence. It reminds him of when he left Ellen the last time they were together: when they had discussed her divorce. On seeing the scene and remembering Ellen, Newland begins to cry and gets up to leave the theater. As he is walking out, he sees Ellen; as he catches her eye, Mrs. Beaufort (sitting next to Ellen) calls Newland over. He sits behind Ellen and Ellen whispers, “Do you think he will send her yellow roses tomorrow.” She was alluding to the roses that Newland had sent her. He says, “I was thinking that too.” She says, “What do you do while May is away?” May is on vacation with her family in Florida. Newland is upset by the obviously suggestive question. She tells him that she has decided not to go through with the divorce because of him. Archer leaves the theater reflecting on a letter that May had sent him. In the letter, May pointed out that Newland is the only one in New York that can truly understand Ellen and that he should take care of her because she is lonely and unhappy.
Analysis: Here we see that everything that has been left unsaid by Ellen (because the narration only reflects Newland+s thoughts) may be true. Ellen may feel the same way about Newland as he feels about her. Her understanding of the roses in the same context that Newland understands the scene of the play is eerie and points to the similarities between these characters. Their un-discussed romance becomes real in this chapter; this is a point of pivot in the novel.
There are some more interesting allusions to the mortal/immortal contrast. Mr. van der Luyden is described as a protecting diety; May has a “gift of divination.”
Chapter Fourteen Summary: While leaving the theater, Newland runs into his friend Ned Winsett. Ned immediately asks the name of the “swell dark woman”. Newland recognizes that his curiosity is directed at Ellen and he is annoyed. Winsett explains that Ellen had bandaged up his little boy when he had fallen. Newland tells Ned that her name is Countess Olenska. Ned asks why a countess would live in his neighborhood; Newland says it is because she doesn+t care about social sign-posts.
The next day, Newland searches all over town for yellow roses but cannot find them. He sends her a message so they can meet later in the day, but she doesn+t write him. On the third morning of hearing nothing from Ellen, he finally receives a letter from her. She said that she has “run away” and that she is staying with the van der Luydens in Skuytercliff. She says she feels “safe” with them. Newland immediately decides to accept an invitation and visit the Chiverses (whose invitation he had previously rejected) because they are only a few miles from Ellen.
Analysis: What is interesting in this chapter is the discussion of freedom between Ned and Newland. Ned insists that “Life isn+t much of a fit for either of them.” For Ned, life stinks because he cannot find a respectable job as a writer. Yet, for Newland, the loss of freedom is far more subtle. Ned encourages Newland to become a politician. But Newland thinks that such a life is not appropriate for a gentleman. Newland cannot even aspire to be a good lawyer because it is inappropriate to work for money. Like, Ellen desperate for freedom, Newland recognizes that there is no freedom to be had: the only approporate lifestyles include sport or culture.
Also interesting in this chapter are two motifs: translation and literature explaining life. First, Archer does not quite understand Ellen+s letter to him; he thinks “I have run away” could mean much less than it seems to say. In English, the expression, “I have run away” usually suggests quite a dramatic situation; Newland believes it may be more correctly understood in French: the expression “Je me suis evadee” is the same as “I have run away” but has a much more casual significance. Newland also uses literature to “translate” Ellen+s letter. At first he cannot understand why the van der Luydens would invite Ellen to their home; but then he remembers a play he had seen in Paris and understands that the van der Luydens are kind to her because they are her saviors. The play, a form of literature, provides Newland with a way of translating life into meaning.
Chapter Fifteen Summary: Newland arrives at the Chiverses on Friday and on Sunday he leaves to visit Ellen. She has gone to church so he takes a cutter (light sleigh) to find her. He sees her on the path from the church. They play in the snow and then go to the small Platoon house so they can talk privately. They had only spoken a few moments when she indicates that she is running away from Beaufort; suddenly he arrives and there can be no more discussion of the topic. Newland returns to New York, curious about just why she was running away. He drowns himself in great novels for a few days and then Ellen sends him a message asking him to visit her late and at night. Newland is not sure how to reply; so he leaves for St. Augustine Florida to visit May.
Analysis: It seems that Ellen and Newland are playing a little bit of cat and mouse; running away from each other and then meeting again. First Ellen runs off to the mountains, then Newland runs off to St. Augustine. Ellen is seen throughout the scene in a red cloak; a sign of revitalization and passion.
Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20
Chapter Sixteen Summary: Newland travels to St. Augustine to see his fianc May. With her, “here was truth, here was reality.” Newland kisses her when they can find a moment of seclusion, but the kiss is so hard and adamant that May pulls away. May and Newland have breakfast with her family. They thank Newland for convincing Ellen not to divorce. The day before his departure, Newland takes May to the Spanish gardens in order to encourage her to be his wife sooner. May says that perhaps the pressure is due to the fact that he may not continue to care for her much longer and marriage would be a security. She is worried he is still in love with the mistress from two years ago. Newland convinces her that this is not the case and she believes him and they embrace.
Analysis: The true irony in this chapter is that May is right on the mark about Newland; he has fallen in love with another woman; he does want to rush the marriage because he fears that his love may not last for May. The only thing she has wrong is the woman. Newland is in love with Ellen and not Mrs. Thorley Rushmore. It is ironic and unfortunate that May+s intuition could be so accurate and yet not enough to reveal the truth.
At the same time, we cannot dismiss May for being inaccurate. It is possible that she know the “other woman” is Ellen; she just does not disclose that she knows and alludes to Mrs. Thorley Rushmore just to show Newland that she knows what+s going on and has the proper composure to conceal her knowledge.
Chapter Seventeen Summary: While Newland had been away, Ellen had stopped by to meet his mother and sister. Mrs. Archer does not think she is as plain as she first appears. Indeed, Newland remarks that she is quite different than May. Newland goes to visit Mrs. Catherine Manson Mingott when he returns because he has so many messages for her. Mingott jokes, “Why don+t you marry Ellen?” Newland remarks that she had not been around. Newland reveals to Ellen and Manson Mingott that he wanted to convince May to marry him sooner. Ellen suggests that perhaps she and her grandmother can be of assistance. Ellen asks Newland to visit her and he does the next day.
When he arrives at her home, Newland is greeted by a cast of strange people. There is his friend Ned, who leaves at first opportunity. There is a hokey Dr. Carver, who leaves to attend a lecture. And, there is the Marchioness Mingott, Ellen+s aunt. She tells Newland that she has come on Count Olenski+s behalf to convince Ellen to return to Europe.
Analysis: We must notice the constant questioning, “Why isn+t Newland marrying Ellen?” There seems to be an unconscious realization among people that they are right for each other. What do they seem to have in common to Catherine?
Many academics site Dr. Carver as a very important character. His religion of love is a hoax and exists in opposition to the other religion, that of the strict moral conduct of the society members. His religion is clearly a sham; but interestingly very few regard the religious conduct of the society as being a sham, although both have very little basis in reality.
Chapter Eighteen Summary: Ellen comes down the stairs. She sees that someone has brought her a bouquet and she is annoyed, “I+m not engaged to be married,” and asks Nastasia to take the bouquet to Ned+s wife. Newland puts the Marchioness Mingott in her carriage. After she is gone, Ellen and Newland smoke. Newland reveals Mingott+s belief that Ellen will return to Europe. Ellen blushes and says, “Many cruel things have been believed of me.” Then after some conversation, Newland reveals that he is in love with Ellen. Ellen is angry because it is Newland that has made it impossible for them to marry; he convinced her not to divorce. Newland says that it is his right to renege on the marriage since May refused to marry him early. But just as he says this, a telegram arrives informing Ellen that her help has made it possible for the two to marry just after Easter one month away!
Analysis: The first point of interest in this chapter is a bit of dialogue between Newland and Ellen. Newland asks, “Is your aunt+s romanticism always consistent with accuracy?” And Ellen says, “You mean: does she speak the truth?” It is interesting that Newland believes the language of his society to be straightforward and honest, but it is clear that in reality the New Yorkers speak in twisted circumlocutions. Ellen, is the only one who speaks in plain honest language.
Also interesting is the line by Newland, “I+m still free and you+re going to be.” He vows to call off the engagement but loses all heart when he receives the telegram from May. If his freedom is so easily retracted, is he ever free? In fact, Ellen notes that she only chose against divorce because it seemed to be what Newland wanted. Newland seems to be imposing his shackles on others, rather than liberating them.
Chapter Nineteen Summary: May and Newland are married and they spend their honeymoon, due to a twist of fate, at the Platoon home. Ellen, “due to illness”, could not attend the wedding; she had been away for four weeks with her aunt.
Analysis: Here, in this chapter, May+s “godliness” is again made apparent: “Her face had the look of representing a type rather than a person; as if she might have been chose to pose for a Civic Virtue or a Greek goddess.”
Clothing is an important symbol throughout the novel; interestingly, Ellen gives May a gift of old lace. The gift seems ironic since it is Ellen who supposedly defies conventionalities; yet, old lace is the mark of old society, old convention. Lace is also like netting perhaps Ellen is acknowledging that May has “netted” her beau. Lace is also simultaneously romantic and sexual while being old fashioned and sophisticated. The introductory credits to the Scorcese film, The Age of Innocence , shows lace superimposed over very erotic flowers. Clearly, the gift of lace has some interesting implications.
Chapter Twenty Summary: On the honeymoon, Newland realizes that there isn+t much to emancipate in May because she is totally unaware that she may not be free. They visit some boring family friends, the Carfry+s, and enjoy making fun of them on the way home.
Analysis: This chapter is quite dull and is probably intentionally written this way to show how commonplace their honeymoon is. The only important idea is “The first six months of marriage are always the hardest. After that I suppose we shall have finished rubbing off each other+s angles.” But the worst of it was that May+s pressure was already bearing on the very angles whose sharpness he most wanted to keep.”
Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-25
Chapter Twenty-One Summary: It has been a year and a half since Newland last saw Ellen. He spends August in Newport with all the other wealthy members of his society. Everyone stands around and watches May shoot an arrow like a goddess at a little contest at the summer party. Later, May decides she wants to visit her Granny and takes the reins of the carriage. Catherine tells them that Ellen is at home but when they call for her the maid says she has already walked toward the sea. Newland is asked to retrieve her but as he approaches her he realizes that he can+t find the power to approach her. He decides that he will watch a boat and see if it passes a rock before Ellen looks at him. The boat passes the rock and Ellen has not turned her gaze away from the sea. So, Newland retreats to the house and pretends he could not find her. That night, as May and Newland travel back to the Welland+s home, May comments that perhaps Ellen would have been happier with her husband. Newland says her comment was cruel, “Watching the contortions of the damned is supposed to be a favorite sport of the angels; but I believe even they don+t think people happier in hell.” All night Newland lays awake thinking of Ellen.
Analysis: It seems in this chapter that Newland is dead. His life is a dream and the characters lack depth and reality. He is a coward now. He cannot even approach Ellen. His soul seems dead.
Interestingly, May has retained her godly innocence and beauty while married. Wharton remarks that she is still exactly the same; she like van der Luyden does not age and retains her stature as Diana, the goddess of the hunt and chastity. Catherine is again referred to as a god by the pantheon she has painted on her walls; clearly she recognizes her place as a New York society “god” if she has such a painting on her ceiling,
The scene where Newland walks to the ocean front and then decides to let “fate” determine whether he will approach Ellen is one of the most memorable scenes in the book. It shows how Newland no longer wishes to will actions; he sets arbitrary signposts in fate and then allows random chance to affect his decisions. As further evidence of this change in his character, May takes the reigns while in their carriage she directs the course of their lives.
Chapter Twenty-Two Summary: The Blenkers, the family where Ellen is staying, decide to throw a garden party which means that none would be home. Strangely, Newland decides to go to the Blenkers+ home with the hope of seeing the place where Ellen has been living. He goes to the home, expecting it to be deserted, and finds one of the Blenker daughters who reveals to him that she has gone to Boston.
Analysis: Interestingly, the whole world seems quite gray except for a pink parasol that Newland finds at the Blenker+s home a symbol of exoticism. He picks it up, believing it to be Ellen+s. In his mind, anything exotic and brightly colored must be associated with Ellen. It is very ironic that Newland would feel this way: in the next chapter we see that Ellen+s umbrella is actually gray. Her exoticness has been subdued in the year and a half that Newland has not seen her; the woman of his imagination is now different than the real Ellen.
Also, on the way to the Blenker+s, Newland walks past a statue of a cupid. It+s an ineffectual cupid: the cupid has no arrows and no quiver. Newland is very similar to the cupid, metaphorically. Both Newland and Cupid are “archers”, and ineffectual ones. Newland, like the broken cupid, is unable to will action.
Chapter Twenty-Three Summary: Newland goes to Boston and sends a message to Parker House, where Ellen is staying, but she is not there. He sees her sitting on a bench outside of the building. He says hello and for the first time, he sees a startled look on her face. Previously, the narrator has told us that Ellen never seems to become surprised. She is on a bench thinking if she should return to her husband. He has sent a messenger to bring her back and he is offering a big sum of money. Newland stares at her and says, “Haven+t we done all we could?” They take a boat ride together and then have dinner in a private dining hall; they do not touch and barely speak to each other. The silence and isolation is simply enough.
Analysis: This is the first chapter where Newland finally seems alive again. This scene is desperate, beautiful and simple.
Many scenes in the novel are described as tableau they are described like still-life oil paintings. One of the most important tableau is the scene where Newland approaches Ellen. He sees her sitting across the Common and the narrator describes his vision as if she were a beautiful painting. The Scorcese film actually depicts this scene with a real oil painting.
Also, it is very ironic that Newland feels as if their little boat trip is “like they were starting on some long voyave from which they might never return.” In reality, their trip is nothing like a long voyage. It is just a circular trip through Boston Harbor.
Chapter Twenty-Four Summary: Finally, the “silent spell is broken” and the two break out in conversation. Newland asks why she has not returned to Europe and Ellen says, “Because of you.” Then she says one of the most interesting passages in the book: “At least it was you who made me understand that under the dullness there are things so fine and sensitive and delicate that even those I most cared for in my other life look cheap in comparison. It seems as it I+d never before understood with how much that is hard and shabby and base the most exquisite pleasures may be paid for.” Ellen thanks Newland for making her the woman she is. And Newland says that he+s not much of a man at all, “I+m the man who married one woman because another one told him to.” Ellen continues that it is their sacrifice that has made May+s life so lovely. And, Newland insists that she dare not base her happiness on the success of his marriage since, “[Ellen] gave [him] his firs glimpse of a real life, and at the same moment asked him to go on with a sham one. It+s beyond human enduring. She exclaims, “But I+m enduring it!” And the two realize that they will never be alone since they will both silently endure the same pain. Ellen says she will stay in America, as long as they continue to endure; as long as they do not disobey propriety for their love.
Analysis: This scene is so powerful because, despite the depth of feeling and language, the two never touch. Also interesting is the plays on reality and pretend. What is real? What is the sham life? Newland changes his mind depending on whose company his is in.
Also, it is interesting that their misery is all for the sake of preserving May+s happiness. Is May, in a sense, the free individual since all cater to her happiness? Certainly, this may be true since it is her reality that all seem to cater to entertain.
Chapter Twenty-Five Summary: Newland wanders back to New York in a “golden haze.” On leaving the train station he runs into a gentleman he had seen near Ellen+s Boston residence, the Parker House. They agree to meet later in Newland+s office. His name is M. Riviere and his first comment to Newland is, “I believe I saw you yesterday in Boston.” Riviere reveals that he had been the messenger sent by Olenski to Ellen. Newland is, at first very angry. But, then Riviere reveals that he, personally, believes that the worst thing for Ellen would be for her to return. He reasons that she is an American and believes certain things that are commonplace in Europe to be unthinkable in her mind as an American. Riviere reveals to Newland that he is quitting his job with Olenski.
Analysis: This chapter reveals, objectively, that Newland is right in pleading with Ellen to stay. It is the right thing for her and it has been confirmed, now, by an objective source. Since the narration is so close to Newland, in that it reflects his thoughts, prior to this moment, it is impossible for the reader to know whether or not Europe is a more appropriate home for Ellen. But, since Riviere has no motives to leave Ellen in America (in fact he has motives to the contrary) we can believe, for once, that Ellen belongs in America. It is also interesting that the ties of society are so tight for May; she will not reveal to her own husband the negotiations concerning Ellen because others have deemed it better that she not reveal this to him.
Summary and Analysis of Chapters 26-30
Chapter Twenty-Six Summary: Over Thanksgiving dinner, the matter of changing society is thoroughly discussed. For example, now even May goes to Mrs. Struthers+ home for Sunday night amusement. (Previously, Mrs. Struther+s reputation was too questioned to allow for any of New York+s uppercrust to pay her a visit). Mrs. Archer, of course, brings up the fact that it was Ellen who attended the dinners first. May blushes deeply when Ellen+s name comes up; Newland is very concerned about what the blush means. Beaufort+s name also comes up over the meal because he has been illegally speculating and may go to prison or go bankrupt. Meanwhile, dreams of Ellen have become Newland+s “real” life. He reads the books she used to read. He is “absent” from his society. After dinner, Newland and Sillerton Jackson retreat to the Gothic library. Jacskson mentions that Ellen is almost financially cut off by her family for her refusal to return to the Count. He implies that now that Beaufort is bankrupt, she may be forced to return to Europe because he won+t be able to support her. Newland is very angry and concerned for Ellen. He tells May that he will go to Washington on business; May understands that he is going to see Ellen, although she does not say anything.
Analysis: It is very ironic that “punctually at this time [every year] Mrs. Archer always said that New York was very much changed.” For someone to always remark that change has occurred it means that the person really is not noticing important change but is rather making comments as a force of habit. At the same time, the contrast that is described throughout the novel by Wharton between “Old” and “New” New York indicates that change really is occuring. It is very clever of Wharton to have Archer make the right comment but for the wrong reason.
What is incredible in this chapter is the silent dialogue between May and Newland. It is incredible to think that four words could “say” so much in silent. Is all of this really being communicated or is the dialogue less complete than the narrator thinks? Also, in this chapter, for the first time, Newland has been cut out of society. This is monumental; how has this occurred?
Chapter Twenty-Seven Summary: At first Wall Street is reassured that Beaufort can pay his bills. Mrs. Beaufort is seen at the Opera in brand new emeralds, a sign that Beaufort has enough money to keep his wife well jeweled. However, it is later revealed that Beaufort, in fact, could not pay his bills. At the law firm, Newland receives a telegram saying that Mrs. Manson Mingott has had a stroke. Apparently, Mrs. J. Beaufort had approached her the night before asking if the family could stand up for her during her husband+s financial crisis. Catherine replies, no! Mrs. Beaufort says “But my name, Auntie, is Regina Dallas, ” trying to remind her that prior to her marriage she was a member of one of the most prominent New York families. And Catherine replies, “It was Beaufort when he covered you with jewels, and it+s got to stay Beaufort now that he+s covered you with shame.” Catherine also requests that Ellen come back from Washington so that she can convince her to return to her husband. May remarks that it will be a pity that Newland will not be able to see her since he will be going to Washington while she is returning. Newland leaves to the telegrapher+s office to send Ellen the message.
Analysis: In this chapter we catch another glimpse at the power of names. When Regina requests that she be considered a “Dallas” and not a “Beaufort”, Catherine rejects her claim. It is society that determines which labels a person may take.
Chapter Twenty-Eight Summary: Newland sends off the telegram; he is confronted at the office by Lefferts who wants to of course discuss the rumors. Later, at the Wellands+, there is a crisis over who shall pick Ellen up at the station. Newland volunteers to go. May asks Newland how he will have the time to pick up Ellen and still make it to Washington. Newland lies and says that his business trip has been postponed. May catches him in a lie but has too much propriety to confront him about it. As Newland leaves for the station, May seems to have a tear in her eye.
Analysis: Now we begin to question, how much does May know? Does she feign ignorance for the sake of propriety? Is she as miserable as Ellen and Newland, just better at pretending?
It also interesting in this chapter that Catherine suddenly cares about Ellen. One passage is particularly informative: “The growing remoteness of old age, though it had not diminished her curiosity about her neighbors, had blunted her never ver likely compassion for their troubles; and she seemed to have no difficulty in putting the Beaufort disaster out of her mind. But for the first time she became absorbed in her own symptoms, and began to take a sentimental interest in certain members of her family to who she had hitherto been contemptuously indifferent.” This passage indicates that Catherine+s prior “godly” coldness and indifference may have changed with the stroke. Her character has undergone a significant transformation as indicated by her desire to bring Ellen home.
Also it seems rather arbitrary that a society like this one would tolerate marital infedility but would become so angry over some fiinancial “infidelity.” This whole episode is meant to illustrate how arbitrary some of the codes of New York Society truly are.
Chapter Twenty-Nine Summary and Analysis Newland takes the dark blue carriage (with the wedding varnish still on it) to pick up Ellen from the train station. They talk about all the common things and her grandmother+s stroke. When they see a hearse, Ellen grabs Newland+s hand for fear that the hearse is meant for Granny. But Newland assures her that Granny is fine and takes the opportunity of holding her hand to kiss it. He tells her that he hardly remembered her because, “Each time you happen to me all over again.” To bring him back down to earth, Ellen comments, “This is May+s carriage.” Newland retaliates by mentioning Riviere and asking if he was the secretary that once rescued her. She answers yes. Newland remarks on her honesty. Ellen says she calls them as she sees them because “she+s looked at the Gorgon.” [The Gorgon is a monster from Greek mythology; Medusa was the most well-known Gorgon.] Ellen kisses him. He says he can+t live the way he lives any longer. Then there are two important passages that elucidate the theme of the novel:
Archer says, “I want to get away with you into a world where words and categories don+t exist. Where we shall be simply two human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else on earth will matter.”
She sighed, “Oh, my dear where is that country? Have you ever been there? I know so many who+ve tried to find it; and believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations: at places like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo and it wasn+t at all different from the old world they+d left, but only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous.” Ellen says there can never be happiness between them because it can only occur behind other+s backs. Newland, angrily, gets out of the carriage and walks away.
Chapter Thirty Summary: Newland returns for dinner. “Archer was struck by something languid and inelastic in May+s attitude, and wondered if the deadly monotony of their lives had laid its weight on her.” The two discuss the same commonplace gossip. Newland decides to read some history instead of poetry because he hates listening to the way May analyzes poetry. And May does her embroidery although her big hands are not naturally suited to the work. They aregue over leaving the window open and then go to bed.
Seven days later Mrs. Manson Mingott invites Newland, just Newland, to her home. There, she half-jokingly accuses Newland of having made advances toward Ellen isn+t this why she threw him out of the carriage? Then, surprisingly, Catherine informs Newland that she+s going to keep Ellen in New York to take care of her and that she needs Newland+s support to convince the family that she should not be sent back to Europe. Newland agrees.
Analysis: The bedroom scene is very interesting because it shows that nether Newland, nor, more surprisingly May, are being the people they were naturally designed to be. Newland reads history, although her prefers poetry, and May embroiders, although her hands are too big.
In this chapter we can see that Catherine has, in a sense, fallen from immortality. She has her first signs of aging, dark shadows between the fold of her flesh. She for the first time, shows evident compassion and caring for Ellen, one of the “mortals”.
Also, in this chapter, Catherine refers to Ellen as a “sweet bird.” In fact, throughout the book, Ellen has been described with feathers. Right before Newland goes to fetch Ellen from her train he examines a picture of cardinals. And later, when Newland seeks freedom, he needs air, just as birds need air for flight. This is a common motif throughout the book.
Summary and Analysis of Chapters 31-34
Chapter Thirty-One Summary: Newland begins walking home from Catherine+s. In his mind, he wrestles with the plausibility of really having an affair with Ellen. He goes to the Beaufort+s home, since Catherine informed him that Ellen is there. He meets Ellen there and they decide to meet the next day at the Art Museum. At the museum, they look at relics. Elen says, “it seems cruel that after a while nothing matters any more than these little things, that used to necessary and important to forgotten people, and now have to be guessed at under a magnifying glass and labeled: Use Unknown.+ Ellen realizes that her presence so near to Newland will endanger his marriage; she is deeply afraid of having a tawdry affair and becoming “just like the others”. So, she and Newland decide that they will “come to each other” (have a sexual tryst) once and then she will return to Europe. Then Ellen exclaims that she is late and leaves Newland in the museum. Newland returns home and May is out; she returns and says that she just came back from a long talk with Ellen. May seems happy and sad; she suddenly has a better esteem for Ellen. At the same time, she flings her arms around Newland in a tearful embrace exclaiming, “You haven+t kissed me today!”
Analysis: It+s fascinating that Newland and Ellen arrange their meeting in the museum. Here we see an inversion of public and private spaces: the museum, a very public location is now a “private” romantic trysting place. This sort of inversion is apparent in other interesting interactions between Ellen and Newland throughout the book.
Ellen+s and Newland+s reaction to the artifacts explains one of the ironies of the book. While this entire novel is about the forbidding conventions of society that interfere with the machinations of a love-affair, those conventions, like the relics, are soon to become obsolete with “Use Unknown.” The conventions of New York society are symbolized by the relics sitting in the case; yet ironically, Ellen and Newland still feel confined by the conventions even though they realize the conventions are soon to become archaic.
May+s meeting with Ellen is very suspicious; we will find out in later chapters why this meeting will be important.
Chapter Thirty-Two Summary: Newland and his wife and mother go to the Opera. He goes to watch the performance of _Faust_. Mrs. van der Luyden comments that she saw Catherine+s carriage parked outside of the Beaufort+s home. May quickly lies for Catherine saying that she is certain that the carriage was there without Catherine knowing. The van der Luydens realize that Ellen had taken the carriage to the Beauforts. Mrs. Archer tries to make excuses: “Imprudent people are often kind.”
Newland watches the Opera with some disgust thinking, “the same large blonde victim is succumbing to the same small brown seducer.”
May is wearing her wedding dress for the first time in two years. Wharton explains that “it was the custom, in old New York, for brides to appear in this costly garment during the first year or two of marriage.”
Newland decides that he absolutely must leave and whispers to May that he has a beastly headache and wants to go home. In the carriage, Newland opens the window, needing air.
Stepping out of the carriage, May tears her wedding dress. Newland asks if she+d like some brandy “because she looks very pale” but May blushes and says no. Newland tries to talk to May about Ellen; but May cleverly guides the conversation to explain that Ellen will be returning to Europe soon. Newland is obviously shaken by the news and May leaves the room quietly saying “my head aches too.”
Analysis: At this point in the novel, it has been exactly two years since the start of the novel. Newland+s impression of the Opera has radically changed. He no longer feels that the Opera is beautiful and romantic; rather, the Opera is boring and predictable with the “same blonde victim” and the “same small brown seducer.” Romance entirely has become a farce to Newland who watches with much skepticism.
May wears her wedding dress on this evening. This symbol has a lot of significances. Perhaps May is just wearing the dress because she remembers that she was engaged exactly two years prior. But she may also be wearing it because she realizes that she is about to lose her husband to Ellen and wants to remind her husband of his marital vows. She also may be wearing it because her discussion with Ellen the day before had been “successful;” perhaps she had been able to convince Ellen to leave her husband alone and return to Europe. In this case, her wearing of the wedding dress signifies that she believes her wedding is beginning again, anew. In any case, her wedding dress tears while she exits the cab symbolically signifying that some part of her marriage is scarred, torn.
Also, something may be wrong with May; she no longer drinks and blushes when Newland asks. She has headaches and looks very pale. All these clues foreshadow the momentous next chapter.
Chapter Thirty-Three Summary: The Archers begin setting up for their first dinner party, “a big event” for a young couple. The party will be in honor of Ellen Olenska leaving New York and returning to Europe.
Although Ellen had not spoken to Newland in ten days, he returned a key that he had given her earlier in a blank envelope. Newland is assigned the job of evaluating Ellen+s trust. All the while that he is taking care of her finances, he think that there will be an affair between the two in the future. His belief in the future keeps him from writing her.
The night of the dinner party Ellen looks pale, “lusterless and almost ugly.” But still, Newland had never loved her face as much as he did at that moment.” Newland notices that Ellen+s hand is ungloved. Newland thinks, “If it were only to see her hand again I should have to follow her ” Normally only “foreign visitors” would be important enough to sit at the hosts left and take the place of Mrs. van der Luyden. But, they make an exception and let Ellen sit to the host+s left because, “There were certain things that had to be done, and If done at all, done handsomely and thoroughly; and one of these in the old New York code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman about to be eliminated from the tribe.”
Newland realizes that everyone thinks that a true “affair” had been going on between Newland and Ellen; the celebration is really because the “separation between himself and the partner of his guilt had been achieved.” It was the New York way to take a life without any traces of blood.
Everyone sits at the table discussing travel in a dispassionate way. Newland looks at Ellen; he imagines she is thinking, “Let+s see it through,” which means, let+s have our affair as planned.
All the men retire to the library after dinner, and discuss how their society is changing. Larry Lefferts says, “If things go on at this pace we shall see our children fighting for invitations to swindlers+ houses and marrying Beaufort+s bastards.”
Later that evening, May asks if it is alright if they have a talk. Newland tries to tell her that he is tired of life and wants to go on a long trip; May says, that he can+t go because she found out today that she is pregnant. Newland has a “sick stare” and asks who she has told. She says that she+s told Mrs. Archer and Mrs. Welland and . Ellen. She had told Ellen about it two weeks ago.
Newland asks her why she would tell Ellen about her pregnancy if she was not sure about it until today. She says, “I wasn+t sure then, but I told her I was.”
Analysis: This chapter is one of the most important chapters in the book because it is the end of the affair between Newland and Ellen. In this chapter we come to understand through May+s circumlocutions that May lied to Ellen when they had talked together. May told her that she was pregnant although she wasn+t sure that she was. Clearly, May was uncomfortable that Ellen had come back to New York; she wanted to make very clear to Ellen that she should stay away from her husband. Telling Ellen that she was pregnant made Ellen decide that she shouldn+t sleep with Archer after all. Ellen would not want to give Newland any reasons to leave his pregnant wife..
The key is a symbol the beginning of their affair and the power of “opening” new doors and beginnings. Newland interprets the return of the key as being “another step in the game.” It isn+t until May reveals that she is pregnant, does Newland understand what the return of the key meant. Ellen was ending their affair, before May+s heart could get broken.
This chapter is a stunning example of May+s manipulativeness. She is able to end the affair by lying to Ellen and then hold a dinner party in her honor.
Chapter Thirty-Four Summary: Newland is now fifty-seven and he is remembering his life while sitting at hiswriting table. He thinks about his son Dallas and his daughter Mary. Mary married one of Reggie Chivers+s dullest sons. Dallas became an architect and Newland became a politician, briefly. Newland realizes that he has become a “good citizen” although he has missed the “flower of life.” Newland respected the duty of marriage and mourned when May died. Dallas calls his father on the telephone and tells him that he is going to Paris on business; Newland must accompany him.
Newland reflects that so much had changed in his world. Dallas, his eldest son, was in fact marrying on e of :Beaufort+s bastards”, Fanny Beaufort, and no one cared!
Newland goes to Paris with his son; there, Dallas informs him that Ellen is expecting them in the evening. Dallas says that Newland should definitely go see her because Ellen was once “Newland+s Fanny”, the “woman Newland would have chucked everything for, but didn+t.” Dallas reveals that May said, on her death bed, that she asked Newland to give up the thing he wanted most, and he did.” Newland says simply, “She didn+t ask.” Dallas then remarks that May and Newland never told each other anything; they lived in a silent “deaf and dumb asylum.”
When Newland and Dallas arrive in Ellen+s neighborhood; Newland decided that he doesn+t want to go up and see her. When Dallas asks him what she should say on his behalf, he says, say that I+m “Old-fashioned.”
Dallas goes to see Ellen and Newland sits on the bench outside her building for a long time; when a servant comes to shut her shutters, Newland decides to leave the neighborhood.
Analysis: This chapter is written to show, quite ironically, that all the prohibitions that “be