Point of View in The Age of Innocence
Any academic discussion of point of view in The Age of Innocence entails having an insight into the general tendencies characterizing Edith Wharton's most literary works as far as narrative technique is concerned. In general, Wharton doesn't favour the recourse to third-person omniscient narrator; she opts for novels and stories where the tale works itself out and where a set of various narrative techniques are used.
Wharton's successful manipulation of narrative technique is at the origin of the success of The Age of Innocence. Her narrative strategy consists in the use of authorial telling, showing, and commenting of which the purpose is to provide the reader with insight into the whole social background of characters. Narrative effect is achieved through the use of dramatic presentations which aim at depicting a truthful, accurate, credible, and vivid image of New York society.
In presenting a comprehensive, exact picture of this society, Wharton makes full use of characters; throughout the novel, we see how characters themselves take part in the narration process as if they were dolls manipulated by a masterful master. It is this shift from authorial telling, showing, and commenting to characters' lending a hand in narration which renders the narration smooth and flexible. Wharton narrates the story, but she withdraws whenever it is necessary to do so. The scene at the Van Der Luydens (chapter 8), for example, is presented through Newland Archer's vision, which is very significant in that it gives this vision more credibility and transparency via avoiding the intrusive effect of the author-narrator, making the scene thus appear less artificial and more natural.
Wharton makes use of a combination of narrative techniques. Authorial telling, summary, and use of a central consciousness are used in alternation, depending on the intended effect. Her consistent switching from...