The role of the closed community in Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”

Essay, 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3




1. The Age of Innocence

2. Twilight




“She said she knew we were safe with you, and always would be, because once, when she asked you to, you’d given up the thing you most wanted.” (Dallas to Archer about May)

Safety and protection are basic human needs. Every child who has ever lain awake at night, wondering about the monsters under the bed, will attest to the fact, that it’s not only the walls and the doors that make a house safe, it’s the people in it. In big cities one tends to be surrounded by people, but the emotional connection remains missing. But even there, this basic need for safety and contact has to be satisfied: communities evolve. In creating sub-communities that function like smaller towns, the masses separate to return to a feeling of shared thoughts and values. Sociology tells us that people belonging to a community are held together by a collective conscience. They have rituals and traditions that set them apart from “others” and share a sense of moral responsibility that causes them to act in defense of any member of their community.

In 1920 Edith Wharton published her novel “The Age of Innocence” that looks with detailed perception at one such town-within-the-city. New York’s aristocratic high society, destined to be overrun by New Money clings hard to traditional values. A battle for love and values ensues below the façade of implacable manners. In 2005 the first of four novels of the “Twilight Saga” was published by Stephenie Meyer. It centers on a tight group of people that share more than a consciousness.

In this essay, I will look at the communities that define “The Age of Innocence” and “Twilight”. I will draw connections between these stories that appear so different at first glance. The question I want to answer is: What role does the closed community play in “The Age of Innocence” and “Twilight”?

My primary sources are the novel “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton and the books of the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer: “Twilight”, “New Moon”, “Eclipse”, “Breaking Dawn” and her unfinished draft for “Midnight Sun”.

1. The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence is set in 1870s New York. The book lights on Newland Archer in his early 20s. He starts out happily in love with the young May Welland whose engagement to him is about to be announced. The relevant community seems to be aristocratic New York that uses manners, dress and housing to show off and set themselves apart from the city’s working class. Clean, simple borders divide the two groups, each going about their business peacefully. The threat against which Archer and his community need protection is not easily ascertained, for he is a pampered aristocrat. It seems that blunt speech, bold actions and “scandal” are the greatest threats imaginable. His innocent happiness is put at risk by the arrival of Ellen Olenska, a cousin of May’s who married a foreigner and has since been living in Europe. Now she has come home, leaving her (possibly abusive) husband. She is an unconventional character, an intruder who causes a large amount of uproar—even though she never means to and largely doesn’t notice. The old New York families balk at the thought of accepting Countess Olenska in their midst.

Suddenly the community shows cracks along family lines. As the rest of New York sinks into oblivion, the spotlight centers on the finer points of society’s code of conduct that marks the difference between Old New York and people like Julius Beaufort, who came into money only recently. The times provided ample opportunities for the uneducated, but zealous to make a fortune off industrialization or the new railroads.

When “the Mingotts ... tried it on” (19)—when the old matriarch of the tribe sent Ellen with her family to the opera, it is seen as an offense. The other families have to position themselves: Will they smile mildly and accept Ellen or will they scorn her because her family has not kept protocol? The focus is always on “the Mingotts” though. Nobody mentions Ellen by name and even though it is her life in society that is discussed, only her grandmother’s actions are noted as willfully done. Ellen is just an object being brought to the opera and shown about. The other women share this quality: the wives of the rich and powerful are being displayed in the front rows of the opera boxes, wearing expensive dresses and jewelry. Edith Wharton’s interest in social theory and tribal life comes into play. She describes clearly how the “tribe” as a whole functions: Each member has expectations to fulfill, each has a certain knowledge that, in combination, makes up the brain of the community. The “shared consciousness” is created during social gatherings where gossip is given and received until a whole picture of the situation is .formed. Whether or not this picture conforms to reality is not relevant to the group-mind. As long as the logic is tight, and the details could be lined up in a certain way, this is turned into fact by the simple act of speech.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


The role of the closed community in Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”
University of Potsdam
New York Fiction in Time and Space
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
closed community, Edith Wharton, Stephenie Meyer, Twilight, The Age of Innocence
Quote paper
Anja Mittelstedt (Author), 2015, The role of the closed community in Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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