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Age of Innocence (Wharton) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. Why does Archer neglect to tell Countess Olenska of his engagement to May Welland, despite the fact that May has instructed him to do so?  

2. Why does Archer suddenly realize that marriage is "not the safe anchorage he had been taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas"? (p. 35)  

3. Why does Archer feel "oppressed" when contemplating the "factitious purity" of his betrothed? (p. 37)  

4. Why is Countess Olenska a threat to the social order that claims Archer as one of its kind?  

5. Why is the neighborhood where Countess Olenska resides a "queer quarter for such a beauty to settle in"? (p. 99)  

6. To what is Archer referring when he thinks about his peers that "over many of them the green mould of the perfunctory was already perceptibly spreading"? (p. 103)  

7. What does Archer mean when he thinks that "it was wonderful that...such depths of feeling could coexist with such absence of imagination"? (p. 154)  

8. How does Archer feel about May's talent with her bow and arrow? Why does he so often feel "cheated...into momentary well-being"? (p. 173)  

9. When Archer, at the request of Mrs. Mingott, follows the path to the shore to fetch Countess Olenska, why does he say to himself, "If she doesn't turn before that sail crosses the Lime Rock light I'll go back"? (p. 177)  

10. What kind of "code" exists between Archer and May? How does it work? What is its origin? (p. 219)  

11. Why does May decide to host the farewell dinner for the Countess Olenska? Why does Archer think of the dinner guests as "a band of dumb conspirators"? (p. 276)  

12. Why does Archer walk away from a potential reunion with Countess Olenska?

13. Must social and emotional security be purchased with the sacrifice of another individual or group?  

14. Is it moral and honorable to protect others at the expense of one's happiness? Is duty to one's community more important than duty to oneself?
(Questions issued by Penguin Classics; cover image, top right.)

                    
Also, check out LitLovers free online courses, especially LitCourse 8 on Irony: the course reading is Wharton's short story "Roman Fever."

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