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?)

P1 Roundtable AOI Q5 Outline

‘Much of the novel is about people pursuing what they cannot have.’ How far do you agree with this comment on The Age of Innocence? (2014 JC1 Promotional Exam)

In portraying the pursuit of what one cannot have, the novel urges the reader to accept a ‘partial happiness’, to compromise upon one’s dreams and visions for the ‘pleasures’ of real life and playing one’s role in society. Wharton’s purpose here is both philosophical (in the personal sense) and social: an individual’s happiness is ultimately reliant on the collective interest. To believe that one is truly free (to pursue what one wants) is but a wanton fantasy, a childhood dream stuck in an age of innocence.

Paragraph 2
(What) The structure of the novel moves along with the respective ‘pursuits’ of what Wharton’s characters can or cannot have, each eventually (however belated) coming to recognise the merits of what they do have.

  • (How) Archer’s romantic adventures can be charted in a series of romanticised and theatrical encounters in various settings, from Ellen’s ‘Bohemian quarter’ in Ch 9 and 12, to The Shaughraun in Ch 13, the shore in Ch 21, the carriage in Ch 29 and finally, the melancholy museum exhibition of Ch 31. Intriguingly, the protagonist comes close to realising his ‘personal vision’ in Ch 34. Ushered to Ellen’s doorstep, Archer chooses instead to walk away, back to the ‘old-fashioned’ ways that he can have.
  • (How) Even if the reader is granted only limited access to Ellen’s thoughts and feelings, the encounters between Archer and Ellen chart her initial pursuit and subsequent acceptance. Her dialogue impresses with a naivete about Old New York in Book One but makes a more mellow turn in Book Two, speaking with appreciation and understanding of why she cannot have what she desires.

Paragraph 3
(What) Archer’s flight towards fantasy (and shift from reality) presents to the reader the familiar trope of a bildungsroman — a young man goes in search of what he cannot have and so come to understand the ways of his world.

  • (How) The profuse allusions to literature and the arts are used to portray Archer’s indulgence in his visions. The ‘magical’ quality with which they are presented refers the reader towards their unattainability. Ellen’s home is decorated with a ‘trick’, a ‘sleight of hand’. The books he reads open up to ‘enchanted pages’ with the face of Ellen Olenska.
  • (How) Archer’s dilemma between visions and realities, desire and duty is most pronounced in Chapters 20 to 21. The narrator describes his ‘undoubted gratifi(cation)’ of being with May and how ‘he could not say he had been mistaken in his choice’, in contrast to the ‘discarded experiment’, ‘momentary madness’ of Ellen whom he desperately tries to repress. At the more poignant pier scene, the narrator brings light to Archer’s muddled thoughts, where he contemplates his reality as a ‘son-in-law’ vis-a-vis the ‘dream’ of being with Ellen.
  • (How) The representation of his pursuit of Ellen as a ‘dream’, an ‘experiment’ concocted out of ‘madness’ outlines the utter impossibility of him achieving his desires. With his mind an ‘empty and echoing place’, Archer can only mourn his fate, as the reader might come to sympathise with his youthful impulses.

Paragraph 4
(What) The failure of Archer’s romantic visions coincides with the triumph of the collective interest; it will also lead him to a deeper acceptance of his reality.

  • (How) The portrayal of Old New York as an ‘armed camp’ that keeps Archer ‘prisoner’ reflects their defeat of Archer’s romantic aspirations. Society’s ‘inexorable persons’ mandate what he can have — to play by the rules of the ‘family vault’ — even if his ‘passionate determination to be free’ is not subdued.
  • (How) The narrator deliberately renders Archer’s sense of realisation through a series of phrases: ‘it became clear to Archer that.’, ‘He caught the glitter of victory’, ‘The discovery roused…’, ‘He understood that in a moment she would be gone’.
  • (How) Archer’s final words to Dallas in the novel, ‘It’s more real to me here than if I went up’ and the act of ‘walking back alone to his hotel’ are symbolic of his acknowledgement of what he cannot have and eventual submission to what belongs to him — the old ways of his society and the ‘dignity’ of a ‘dull duty’.

Paragraph 5
(What) Ostracised by her own tribe at the start of the novel, the reader learns that Ellen craves acceptance and security from New York. By the end, she will reach a point of recognition on what she can and cannot have.

  • (How) Old New York is presented from Ellen’s perspective as a ‘dear old place’ close to her heart, a ‘heaven’ (15) that is also a sanctuary from the ‘bad where [she] came from’. Later in Ch 12, she regards her ‘bring here, in my own country and my own town’ as a ‘blessedness’ (60).
  • (How) In her conversation with Archer in Ch 18, she reflects how ‘stupid and unobservant’ she was to scrutiny and criticism of ‘oppressively hospitable’ New York. Intriguingly, Ellen echoes Archer’s earlier sermon on the importance of individual sacrifice to preserve the honour of one’s family.
  • (How) The ‘expulsion’ of a ‘kinswoman’ is often interpreted as a sign of Ellen’s victimhood. In the light of her dialogue above, we might also see that she voluntarily sacrifices what she wants for the good of the Mingott clan and to preserve Archer’s own social standing.

JC1 Point of View in The Age of Innocence

  • Wharton’s narrator is sometimes intrusive, mocking and judging the characters in an ironic, sardonic tone.
  • One obvious method is the use of narrative interjections often placed in brackets / parenthesis (y’know, like this). Hmmm… sometimes… funny sentence structures like this one, with multiple ellipses, may also be ironic.
  • You will largely be analysing word choice to substantiate the ironic tone: hyperbole (exaggerated words), understatement (euphemisms), absolute words, tentative words (e.g. sometimes, nearly), overly formal words (e.g. retrospective), ambiguous words.
  • Pay special attention to adverbs (e.g. then, hardly ever) or any modifier that doesn’t really hold much meaning.

If he had probed to the bottom of his vanity (as he sometimes nearly did) he would have found there… (Ch 1, 6)

Wherein, then, lay the resemblance that made the young man’s heart beat with a kind of retrospective excitement? …Ellen had hardly ever said a word to him to produce this impression. (Ch 13, 93)


  • The clearest way of conveying Archer’s thoughts is to simply present it as (1) direct ‘speech’. See the first example below.
  • Sentences beginning with ‘He felt’, ‘He saw’, ‘He thought’ relate to us Archer’s inner thoughts and feelings. We call this (2) indirect discourse because the narrator brings us indirectly into his consciousness or his line of sight. Don’t panic! There is room for interpretation: you are free to say it is Archer or it is the narrator in some cases.
  • (3) Free indirect discourse or stream-of-consciousness is harder to identify. This is when the narrator relates Archer’s thoughts without using “…” or indicators. We have to take hints from peculiar sentence structures and words: in the example below, we see fragmented lines, with short phrases, multiple pauses and simple, emphatic diction. In any case, we should analyse tone and word choice as this leads into a discussion of Archer’s dilemma or his disillusionment with old New York society.

“(1) “How like a first night at the Opera!” he thought, recognising all the same faces in the same boxes… (Ch 19, 148)

(2) He simply felt that chance had given him a new possibility to which his sick soul might cling.

(3) Yes, May might die—people did: young people, healthy people like herself: she might die, and set him suddenly free. (Ch 30, 244)”

JC2 Here to Nov 10, 2PM

Suggested questions for the revision period. I’ve selected set text questions that Cambridge has yet to cover. More recommendations will be added along the way (likely to be after the Prelims).

Get together into a group, allocate  the work and complete 2-3 outlines per person to share. Download and refer to 2013 Lit P1 Revision Qs.

I’m giving you the date and time of Lit P1 because of a certain Mr. Zhang last year ;P

Poetry comparison

  • 2010 ‘A’ Level – Abandoned rooms
  • 2010 ‘A’ Level – Hopeful love
  • 2011 ‘A’ Level – Sense of mystery
  • 2011 ‘A’ Level – Endurance
  • 2012 CJC Prelim – Travel
  • 2012 CJC Prelim – Hope

The Age of Innocence

  • Essay Question 2 – Archer’s realisation of his place
  • Essay Question 9 – Social manners
  • Essay Question 14 – Role of May Welland
  • Passage Based Question 6 – Ch 21 on Archer’s dilemma
  • Passage Based Question 7 – Ch 26 on May Welland
  • Passage Based Question 4 – Ch 12 on social obligations

All My Sons

  • Essay Question 8 – Chris and being ‘better’
  • Essay Question 15 – Self-interest and unrelatedness
  • Essay Question 22 – Family
  • Passage Based Question 6 – Joe Keller
  • Passage Based Question 1 – Joe Keller
  • Passage Based Question 5 – Role of Sue

2014 Mid-Year Exam Review

JC2 H1 / Paper 1

JC2 Paper 3

JC1 H1 / H2 

JC1 CA2 and Book One Presentation Instructions

Hi J1s, we’re moving full steam ahead with The Age of Innocence for the rest of Term 2 to cover as much as we can before the Mid-Year Examination.

CA2 The Age of Innocence (Ch 6 passage)
Your second assignment can be found on pages 20-21 of your Book One package. The passage comes from the first page and a half of Chapter 6 and introduces us to Archer’s doubts and realisations about Old New York and his own role in it. You can use the guiding questions to structure your essay – answering Question 1 will help you form a cogent introduction, Question 2 will give you an apt paragraph 2 and so on. Do note that there will be only be a general prompt  (e.g. write a critical commentary… relating it to…) and no guiding questions for the Mid-Year Examination passage you will be set.

The deadlines for CA2 are as follows: 1T02 – 25 Apr (Fri), 1T03 – 25 Apr (Fri), 1T32/34 – 28 Apr (Mon). The usual rules regarding email submission and extensions apply. Please adhere to the deadline as I have to finish marking all 60 your scripts in no more than 10 days (not counting the JC2 scripts I still have on hand). It is a genuine inconvenience to have to sort late submissions into existing piles.

As always, the essays from your seniors might provide you an inkling of the level / depth required at this formative stage.

The Age of Innocence Book One Presentations
I will not be able to guide the class through Presentations 1-2, but please send me your outlines via email after you are done. I can still provide post-presentation feedback and share it with the respective class. Remember that we are not working for the sake of work: each class is very much in the midst of honing their analysis and response skills for a text that is initially quite challenging (it gets predictable after a while).

The same rule applies to all presentations. Please send me your outline via email or upload it to the facebook group. Usually I insist that groups send it to me 2 days before the presentation so that I can provide early feedback / assistance, but this reservist thing makes this difficult. We will start this ‘rule’ next term!

As you prepare your outline / presentation, remember your W-H-Y, and do dutifully pick out methods or at least patterns of evidence (i.e. diction, motif). This might be a pointless appeal, but also try to keep your presentation easy to follow: pictures, key words in big font always help. The most important thing – the outline – should already be in the hands of your classmates before you take the stage! So remember to print it without lame excuses, please. I promise to walk out if you don’t.