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Mortality and Immortality New York Society in Edith Whartons Age of Innocence 1920 is paradoxically immortal and mortal Like the Olympic pantheon of mythological Greek antiquity New York Society cavorts and carouses bickers and condemns while it feasts on ambrosia and canvas-backs Newland Archers sister is the gossipy Cassandra his wife is the huntress Diana And he by all instances of the society around him should be Dianas archer twin Apollo He too should be immortal that is like a god a deity never aging perfect alive although dead icy condemning and aloof Surprisingly for Newland and the expectations of his society after meeting Ellen Olenska he recognizes through the contrast between her and New York that he like her is different from the others in New Yorks pantheon He too is mortal that is human aging imperfect feeling compassionate and warm Once Catherine the great matriarch of the pantheon is able to fall from immortali ty and become a mortal there is a possibility for Archer to leave the pantheon and live a mortal existence himself But despite his realization of this possibility Newland never leaves the pantheon to take on a mortal existence His inability to freely act on his desires casts the icy perfection of immortality in a new light immortality becomes a form of paralysis He ironically is trapped in his immortality like a soul in a statue Through the dichotomous metaphor of immortality and mortality Wharton is able to cast New York and her hero or perhaps more precisely anti-hero Newland Archer as paradoxically god-like yet paralyzed When Wharton first describes the characters of New York society they are always conceived of as immortal in some way Beginning with Catherine Mingott her immense accretion of flesh rewarded her by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh So Catherine despite her very old age manages to escape wrinkles She is not alone in
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