Document Type

Honors Thesis


This thesis classifies Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence as naturalistic rather than purely realistic. Where realists emphasize individual moral choices in their depiction of everyday life, naturalists argue that external forces, like heredity and the environment, dictate the direction of a life. Scholars have classified Wharton as a realist, but by analyzing The Age of Innocence through a literary-historiographical lens that includes 1870’s New York society manners and expectations, Wharton’s background, and the literary movements flourishing during her lifetime, I argue that Wharton demonstrates many qualities of naturalism. In this novel, all of her characters are helpless victims to forces of a social nature. I make the case in this thesis that The Age of Innocence is in fact a social take on naturalism, a classification that demands a scholarly reexamination of her other work and her designation within a literary movement.

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