What interests me is why she does this? “… the case is postponed?… how odd! I saw a note this morning from Mr. Letterblair to Mamma saying that he was going to Washington tomorrow for the big patent case that he was to argue before the Supreme Court… You said it was the patent case didn’t you? ” May has remained insignificant after the wedding until the farewell dinner, her gradual removal from the plot reflects her decreased individuality after the marriage.
Instead of confronting Newland about it, she takes a more cunning, shrewd approach, she consults with her family, how conspire to take Ellen out “out of the picture” May asks for a private moment and tells Archer in her timid way (“all dew and roses”) that she is pregnant with their first child and the news stuns him, and mocks him, and binds him irrevocably to his family responsibility. Archer might have been able to abandon his marriage for some imagined ideal of a more perfect woman, but the idea of forsaking his child is too much to bear, and with cold hands and a “sick stare” he strokes May’s shining hair and accepts his fate.
Ellen leaves immediately to live in Paris, and Archer resolves once again — and this time finally — to do his “dull duty” and become “what was called a faithful husband. ” The New York society have a farewell dinner for Ellen and she leaves the country. Significantly she tells Ellen of her pregnancy before she tells Newland, this gives Ellen no other choice but to leave Newland alone and Newland no other choice but to leave Ellen alone. This conveys the cunningness and manipulative skills of May Welland and the New York society.
Upon the bones of this love triangle, It is not surprising that Wharton’s paired heroines often find that satisfying either the need for power or the need for affection excludes the other. This echos Wharton’s life, as she never felt adequately loved, either by her mother or several suitors. May arises as the novels true heroin, for as Ellen told Archer, “the real loneliness is living among those kind people who only ask one to pretend… ” The other female characters in the novel, also play a very important part in Wharton’s portrayal of women.
They play a significant, powerful part of the New York society. Mrs Manson Mingott is May and Ellen’s grandmother. The matriarch of New York society. She is the head of the society, but interestingly got her position by being defiant and aggressive in her youth. Mrs Archer is Newland’s conventional mother. She is a widow. Mrs Welland is May’s very conventional mother. Mrs van der Luyden is a socially influential woman capable of making or breaking any reputation. She in particular is consistently in control of Ellen’s fate.
I find myself comparing these women to a court, the society appeal to these women for help and advise, base their lives in the New York society around these women and never betray them, because they know that they will be “ex-communicated” from society if they do so. Ellen Olenska experienced this and I feel that Wharton has also experienced this at some stage of her life, thus portraying it in the novel. Conclusively I feel that Wharton’s description of New York society is so finely detailed that it seemed I was sitting amongst the characters.
At first glance, it would seem that women held the inferior position in society. However, I feel that it was the two heroines of the novel May and Ellen who really knew the type of life they wanted and knew what was necessary to achieve it. I found the women to be strong and honourable about their own fashion. In the end it was Newland I pitied. Wharton has portrayed women intelligently, accurately and intimately, just as she seen it and experienced, but most of all she has presented them precisely as they should have been.