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1. Analyze the relationship between the older generation and the new generation. How does the older generation exert power and how does the younger generation find ways to be self-determining?
2. Using passages from the novel to support your claim, show Newland Archer's awareness of his society as flawed when he is an enthusiastic member of it? Do the same during times when he feels very alienated from it?
3. Write a comparison/contrast of the old New York society and the society of Dallas Archer's present time.
4. What are some of the instances of a double standard as it applies to men and women's roles and liberties? Use Lawrence Lefferts and Julius Beaufort, as well as their wives, in your answer.
5. Examine the scenes in which Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer meet and talk. What values are voiced in those meetings? What makes them fall in love?
6. What are some ways modern readers might interpret the novel differently than Wharton's original audience? In particular, write a paragraph on how a modern reader might think of May? Of Newland? Of Ellen?
7. How is Ellen different from May?
8. Analyze the social power plays that occur during the several dinner parties in the novel.
9. Trace the influence of social outsiders--characters like Julius Beaufort, Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, and Fanny Ring--on the old New York society.
10. What are the fears expressed by the most conservative of the old New York society? How are these fears borne out on the level of plot?
11. Examine the ambiguous character of May Welland's innocence. Does she or does she not act to squelch the affair between her husband and her cousin?
12. Describe the social geography of old New York, from the aristocrats like the van der Luydens, to the next level, the Archers and Wellands, to the outer level, the Struthers and the Rings. Make a chart if you find it helpful.
13. Trace the social and technological changes mentioned in the novel, concentrating on the bulk of the novel, not just on the last chapter.