P1 AOI Last Min Q2a Outline

‘For all his aspirations and fantasies, Newland Archer learns nothing of reality.’ How far would you agree with this comment?

From Ms Aster

TS1: Archer’s aspirations and fantasies reside in the ideals of dramatic expression and originality that is independent from the dictates and shackles of Old New York

In order to present Archer’s aspirations we need to depict that which he is driven away from. (specific aspects of his current reality)

Possible evidence/points to use;

  • His contemplation of May as an ‘artificial product’ of society
  • His feeling oppressed by the ‘inexorable conventions that tied things together and bound people down to the old pattern’ (35).
  • His swelling dissatisfaction with the cold brutalities of his reality.
  • His aspirations to be more than a cog in the ‘powerful engine’ of Old New York (61).
  • His renunciation of social conventions, reflected in various images of conformity (‘dolls’, ‘patterns’)
  • His rebellious calls for them to ‘strike out for’ themselves.


TS2: His pursuit of a life outside Old New York is clearest in his attraction to the freedom, mystery and ‘adventure’ of Ellen Olenska.

How can we convey the extent to which Archer’s temptations to veer outside of society’s boundaries is largely embodied by Ellen and his reaction to her?

Possible evidence/points to use;

  • (i) Archer’s attempt to break away from the ‘narrow margins of life’ (103) in Old New York and seek a less ‘placid’, more ‘pleasurable’ experience with Ellen Olenska.
  • (ii) How are his encounters with Ellen depicted?
    -‘The blood rose to his temples’ (108); ‘His spirits, which had dropped at her last words, rose with an irrational leap’ (110); ‘Archer’s heart was beating insubordinately’ (110) ‘pleasurable excitement of being in a world where action followed on emotion with such Olympian speed’ (134)
    -the setting of Ellen’s house
    – Archer is increasingly buoyed by the imagination of all that Ellen represents to him, the embodiment of his fantasies of an alternate reality, stretching the distance between his actual circumstances.


TS3: However, Wharton suggests that Archer’s passion, elusively expressed from Chapters 8 to 15, are but romantic visions that are fantastical, unrealistic, delusory.

In presenting the frivolity of Archer’s fantastical romantic visions, how could you posit this against the unlikelihood of Archer learning about reality?

Possible evidence/points to use;

  • as ‘two lovers parting in heart-broken silence’
  • ‘Wherein, then, lay the resemblance that made the young man’s heart beat with a kind of retrospective excitement?’
  • Archer’s many flights of fancy: the cumulative use of ‘He felt’ (95, 126), ‘He imagined’ (113, 152, 155) and ‘He was beginning to think’ (112) marks out his delusions for the careful reader.
  • Our protagonist envisages himself as a valiant ‘rescuer’ (94) to the ‘pathetic and even pitiful figure’ (88) of the ‘helpless and defenceless’ Ellen (108).
  • The narrator’s presentation of Archer’s thoughts and perceptions.
  • The anaphoric repetition of ‘she was…’ and the enumeration of Ellen’s supposed vulnerabilities (‘young’, ‘frightened’, ‘desperate’, ‘humbling’) and Newland’s mastery over her unpleasant circumstances (‘pity’, ‘at his mercy’).
  • By deflating the sentimentality and drama of these visions, the narrator marks out how his visions are unrealistic, delusional and ultimately self-damaging.


TS4: Nevertheless, for all of the senselessness suggested by Archer’s aspirations against the landscape of his social world, he does in fact learn something of his reality and the inescapability of the ‘life that belonged to him’.

In what cases do we see Archer cognisant of the very strictures that hold him back yet decides to act against

his own understanding of ‘reality’?

Possible evidence/points to use;

i)Archer’s akrasia (the ancient greek term refers to a weakness or will or the state of acting against one’s better judgement)

– Archer astutely recognises that his predecessors ‘had dreamed his dream’ and chosen a ‘placid and luxurious routine’ over the ‘narrow’, Bohemian ‘margin’ he prefers.


TS5: Arguably, Archer does in fact begin to understand the necessity to sacrifice individual desires for the sake of collective interest, not only from the reminder that Ellen blatantly purports but also from the revelations he comes to acquire about the true workings of his society in Ch 33. Moreover his introspection in Ch 34, is a clearer indication of a man finally ‘at peace with himself’.

How is Archer keenly more aware than ever before about the ruthlessness and ‘conspiracy’ of his social world. What message do they make him understand? Does he immediately take this to heart and is simply bowing in submission?

  • The twenty-six year gap between Ch 33 and 34 facilitates the change from forced acceptance to contentment.
  • The reader encounters an older, more mature fifty-seven year old protagonist reflecting on how the ‘long years together [with May] had shown him that it did not so much matter if marriage was a dull duty, as long as it kept the dignity of a duty’.
  • The change in tone from disillusionment to enlightened ‘dignity’, ‘honour’ and ‘good in the old ways’ mirrors the change in Archer’s perspective towards his role.
  • A language of fulfilment characterises his eldest son Dallas as ‘the pride of his life’ (290) and Archer himself as a ‘good citizen’ whose ‘days were full’ and ‘were filled decently’ (286).
  • (how can we use these ideas to illuminate how Archer has learned something about reality?)

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