Important Quotes from The Age of Innocence
Quote: “. . . 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 terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago." (Book One, Chapter 1)
Analysis: This quote explains very early in the text the important role that society and its rules will play in the novel. The lives of those who are a part of the upper crust of New York society are governed by a set of conventions, which dictate everything from what one wears to where one goes to how early one arrives at the opera. Everyone knows the rules, and everyone is watching to make certain they are adhered to. This is a system that has been around for generations, and there is much in that system that Newland find comforting. Eventually Newland will come to question these rules, but he is never able to walk away from them entirely. He and his generation will remain caught up in these arbitrary restrictions. However, the next generation will finally toss them aside as being unimportant.
Quote: "The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any explanation would have done." (Book 1, Chapter 2)
Analysis: One of the things that attracts Newland to May Welland is the fact that they came from the same background. They were raised in the same social circle and understand its mores. He feels that common background draws them together. It is also part of what makes Newland feel that May is the perfect woman to become his wife. While this common bond is an attraction to Newland, during the course of the book, he starts to feel he needs more. His infatuation with Ellen brings him into contact with a woman very different from May, one who was raised outside of their social circle. This causes her to be more independent than May, both emotionally and intellectually. In the end, however, May is able to use the common bond of society and its expectations to keep Newland in the marriage.
Quote: "In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs . . . . " (Book One, Chapter 6)
Analysis: This is one of the more often cited lines from the book. The line explains what it is like to live in the New York culture of which May and Newland were members. It was like a secret society where only the members knew the rules, which were unwritten and unspoken. That is what made it so difficult for someone like Ellen to be accepted in this world. She was an outsider who did not know or understand the rules and so was constantly breaking them. Also, this made it easy for her to be pushed out of the society when she was perceived as a threat.