Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Robert Martin said The Age of Innocence was, “fundamentally about America and its failure to fulfill its own possibilities”. This resonates now more than ever. The ideal of this country and its execution in practice are at odds.
We proclaim freedom, meritocracy, and pioneering. But our social constructs suggest just the opposite. Just as Newland Archer is compelled to give up his true love for the social script that he’s been given, we are directed to follow the script of our parents. We are to get married, go to church, have children, and work at our uninspired jobs.
I threw the script away, and have been paying for it in big and small ways. I am alienated from my family. I am regularly reminded that I am not fulfilled because I don’t have children.
This was a sacrifice that Archer wasn’t willing to make. As one who has made it, I can say that there are enormous costs. But there are benefits that I cannot express. A few months ago I rode a motorcycle up the side of a volcano in Costa Rica. This experience was so sublime that I cannot capture with words how it felt. I have walked the streets of Manila, Prague, Newcastle, Paris, Tokyo, Panama City, Amsterdam, Vienna, and San Jose. I’ve worked with people all over the planet. I’ve learned that we are all the same, seeking fulfillment and life just in different languages and structures.
And I found love. I found it in places free of expectation and custom. I found it where people are truly free to give of themselves without social binding. Love, generosity when it is so freely given is precious, more so than any possible material wealth.
The yearnings of Newland Archer are both with us as individuals and with us as a nation. Looking through his eyes as his dreams move beyond his grasp, I see how so many of us are full of resentment. As we move forward together but apart the ties that bind will keep moving to hold us all down. But where the Newland Archers leave off, there will be the quiet marginalized pioneers wrestling down the spirit of life with all its dazzling energy and beauty.