Part 3: Serial Reading Guide for The Age of Innocence, chs. 22-34, end of novel.
1. As you read this concluding portion (particularly chapter 31), note any individual lines suggesting that a character is forming a strong or “final opinion” of what to do with his or her life. Then compare those lines to novel’s actual conclusion.
2. Does Newland’s imagination outsmart his reality? Are the scenes that play out in his mind more important to him than actual events? Consider the pink parasol episode (in chapter 22), among other instances.
3. Ellen and Newland are together again after a separation. Note the key scene at the end of chapter 24.
4. Key line: “It was the perfect balance she had held between their loyalty to others and their honesty to themselves that had so stirred and yet tranquillized him.” (start of Ch. 25)
5. During the second year of the Archer marriage, note the intense effect of the social “code” and “Archer’s exclusion” near end of chapter 26. And here’s a question: In general, as the novel develops, would you say that Newland is learning anything?
6. After reading the lamp scene involving May and Newland (ch. 26), what do you think of May’s character? Notice also near the end of chapter 27 the way that May handles the patent lawsuit issue. What does that say about her mental life?
7. Key moment—
“We’re near each other only if we stay far from each other. Then we can be ourselves. Otherwise we’re only Newland Archer, the husband of Ellen Olenska’s cousin, and Ellen Olenska, the cousin of Newland Archer’s wife, trying to be happy behind the backs of the people who trust them.”
“Ah, I’m beyond that,” he groaned.
“No, you’re not! You’ve never been beyond. And I have,” she said, in a strange voice, “and I know what it looks like there.” (Ch. 29)
8. Be ready for the second half of chapter 30—it’s a marvel of psychological, emotional, and narrative analysis.
9. What do you think of Newland’s final decision? What do you think of Ellen’s final decision?
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