The Age of Innocence and The Awakening: Interpreting Internal Social Conflicts
Internal Conflicts and Society
When it comes to internal conflicts as a result of societal pressures, The Age of Innocence puts you in a different perspective of the process of social change, orbiting the theme of the hardships between the societal group and the individual. Similar to The Awakening, this novel takes you into the world of a high-class, closed minded society that follows strict social standards in order to keep an overall balance of morality. Societal rules that determine who you are as a person and shapes the future for you are the main factors of internal conflict. With the expectation to sacrifice his desires in order to not upset the established order of society, Newland Archer faced the internal conflict that was very similar to the conflict that Edna faced; the conflict of following his own wants and desires for satisfaction or preserving the high-end reputation of his family. He was also, like Edna, expected to behave according to a strict code of morality, and faced the internal conflict of either following his love for Ellen and disrupting the societal balance of his family, or stabilizing the overall condition of his family by continuing to marry May and accepting Ellen into the society without having his own desires get in the way.
The citizens of New York in The Age of Innocence were expected to behave according to a very strict and concrete “code” of morality, which is what kept society in balance and in check. That code of morality included avoiding any type of scandal, staying within your royalty/status quota, and putting your family first. The societal pressure of following this specific code pushed Newland into an internal conflict that lasted throughout the book. Following his love for Ellen was his main conflict; she provided him the satisfaction that his wife, May, could not. His other conflict was preserving the high-end reputation of his family over his feelings for Ellen. Both sides of the family (Archer and Welland) earned more status to their already-high reputation as a result of the marriage between Newland and May, and it was up to Newland to preserve that reputation by following the societal code of morality. His internal conflicts were very similar to Edna; the town of New Orleans followed a strict code of morality, forcing Edna to face the conflict of either following her love and desires for Robert and other men or preserving her own reputation in the town and as a Creole woman. Robert had given her the satisfaction that her husband could not, and Edna had earned status through her marriage and was soon known throughout town. The first few internal conflicts that Newland and Edna had to face as a direct result of societal pressures began to reveal the theme of hardships between society and the individual, leading to larger conflicts later on in the novels.
The societies in both The Awakening and The Age of Innocence were given the expectation to sacrifice feelings and desires in order to fortify and not disrupt the established order of things in that society. Newland faced the conflict of either following the expectation to stabilize the general condition of his family or following his own wants and desires for satisfaction. This was especially evident with his relationship with Ellen; despite his various protests and conflicting feelings, Newland was expected to welcome Ellen into the society and put his family’s needs above his own at all times. This was a duty to his family along with the expectation to promote and protect the solidarity and reputation of both sides of the family, which created a larger conflict than the last. Edna had faced similar internal conflicts of either following her own desires or stabilizing her family and society. The internal conflicts had grown in importance and effectiveness as a result of the societal pressure of keeping order and balance and the desire to fulfill one’s personal needs. This was the case for both Newland and Edna.
The Age of Innocence and The Awakening used internal conflicts in the main characters to thoroughly express the theme of hardships between the societal group and the individual. Internal conflicts were the most efficient way to express this theme, as highlighting external conflicts would have given a different perspective of the expression of the theme. The reader would be unsure as to how exactly the main character was feeling emotionally or morally, as an external conflict could just be a result of what society wants to see that character act and not how they actually feel on the inside. The internal conflicts that Newland and Edna had faced (from the decision of following their love and desires to preserving and stabilizing family and societal needs) were a direct result of the societal pressures of behaving according to a certain code and the expectation to sacrifice personal desires in order to keep the society in balance. The internal conflicts presented throughout these two novels effectively revealed numerous important themes of the split between the group and the individual.
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