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Edith Wharton and "The Age of Innocence"

Analysis continued...

By Floramaria Deter

While New York society during the 1870s seems gracious and innocent, the irony is that most people were the opposite: cruel and manipulative. The scene where May gives Ellen a going-away party shows the dark side of this society. Unlike many previous parties that Ellen attended, many come to the party in her honor to see Ellen finally leave New York. Handwritten invitations delivered by servants, several courses of food including delicacies of turtle soup and Roman punch, and elegant flower and table arrangement all make the party a lavish, extravagant affair. The dinner party seems so generous and unselfish; but in reality, the event is a cruel gesture by May and the rest of old New York. May and the other guests seem aware of the attraction between Ellen and Newland because they never allow the two the opportunity to talk privately or to kiss goodye. Perhaps May actually gives the party as a symbol of getting rid of Ellen. Everyone is there only because they are glad to see Ellen leave and to hope that after her departure, their society could return to the way it had always been.
 

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