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Cliques/Groups, Scapegoats, And Exclusion: The High Society Of New York In The Age Of Innocence

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In the current time, there are all kinds of groups/cliques. There are: the jocks, the nerds, and the goths in high school, and the upper class, the middle class, and the poor in society. Each of these groups has their own set of customs/rules that are followed. None of these rules are written. They are just understood. If an outsider comes to a clique and doesn't follow their rules, the group excludes them. If a member of a clique does something wrong, then the clique uses that person as a scapegoat "in order to alleviate dissension and restore harmony within its ranks".(Girard 365) The same things happen in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. The high society of New York, a.k.a. the New York 400, selects certain members of the society to use as scapegoats. One such scapegoat is Beaufort. The New York 400 also chooses people to exclude completely from ever joining their ranks such as Ellen Olenska and the Struthers. They gain a sense of power from people wanting to join their 'elite' and 'prestigious' group, which is made even more 'elite' and 'prestigious' by excluding the people wanting to join. The members of the New York 400 think they are superior to others and don't even want to deal with those people deemed unworthy by them. An Example of this is May's unwillingness to have M. Riviere to dinner even though Archer wants him to come. She makes the comment that he is just common.(123-124)

Beaufort was never really accepted by the New York 400. Beaufort was an Englishman. He came to America on the recommendation of Manson Mingott's Ebnglish son-in-law. He wasn't much liked for his traits: "his habits were dissipated, his tongue was bitter, his antecedents were mysterious . . ."(13). The only reason the New York 400 even put up with him is because of his marriage to Regina Dallas, who had a "Droit de cite," or "the right of the city".(13) He also had "the most distinguished house in New York," and it became an tradition to attend the Beaufort's annual ball.(14) After the upset Beaufort caused with his business( ), the New York 400 saw fit to use him as a scapegoat. He had messed up big time. Regina had also messed up in going to see Catherine Mingott and asking her to stand behind both her and Beaufort.( ) They are both used as scapegoats. After the crash, the Beauforts are out of the circle of society: ". . . between these victims and the community a crucial social link is missing, so they can be exposed to violence without fear of reprisal. Their death does not automatically entail an act of vengeance. . ."(Girard 365) In the case of the Beauforts, the death is their exclusion from society after the crash. Since everyone looked down on Beaufort already, no one was willing to stand by him and Regina. The New York 400 used the Beauforts as examples of what happens to people who tarnish their reputation.

Along with the scapegoats of groups, there are also those that are excluded off the bat. In The Age of Innocence, Ellen Olenska, an European Countess, is one of those people that are excluded. The New York 400's apparent disapproval is seen in many scenes. One such scene is the refusal to the dinner party scene. Catherine Mingott decides to hold a dinner party to introduce some of the members of the New York 400 to Ellen Olenska. Needless to say, it didn't turn out well: "New York Society was, in those days, far too small, and too scant in its resources, for everyone in it (including livery-stablemen, butlers and cooks) not to know exactly which evenings people were free; and it was thus possible for the recipients of Mrs. Lovell Mingott's invitations to make cruelly clear their determination not to meet the Countess Olenska"(31). The New York 400 didn't even give Ellen a chance. They blatantly denied meeting her. This came as a shock to Catherine Mingott.(31)

Another reason Ellen is excluded is because she is ignorant of the manners, custom, and rules of the high society of New York. After the Van der Luydens' dinner party for the Duke, Ellen leaves the duke in order to speak with Archer. This goes against the rules of womanly conduct followed by the women of the New York 400: "It was not custom in New York drawing rooms for a lady to get up and walk away from one man in order to seek the company of another. Etiquette required that she should wait, immovable as an idol . . ."(41). This act is just one of many that Ellen lacks knowledge of, however, she wants to learn the customs of New York. She wants to divorce her Husband, the Count Olenski, but because the New York 400 did not think highly of divorce (and Archer's persistent warning against it), she did not go through with the divorce.( ) She truly wants to



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