Paper Outline: Comparative Analysis of the Openings of The Jungle and Age of Innocence
- The reciprocal relationship between music and its surrounding environment makes the former a natural agent for linking an intimate, personal experience to broader society. Through this lens, the openings of Sinclair’s The Jungle and Wharton’s Age of Innocence establish an inherent connection between Jurgis and Archer’s individual lives and the sprawling city that both intertwines with and overpowers them.
- Encapsulated in these similar musical openings is the cataclysmic event for each story’s plot. The prominent presence of culture in this respect signals the environment’s role as its own character.
- Thesis: The music and culture expressed in the opening scenes of The Jungle and Age of Innocence are an entry point into analyzing the near-suffocating submersion of the respective protagonists in their environment. Contrasting the role that music plays in each situation, however, reveals significant disparities in who exactly is fighting, and against what enemy.
- The Jungle commences with a wedding accompanied by Tamoszius’ crude but animated fiddling.
- In this opening scene, music is an anchor to home. It constructs an oasis for the characters, and we see them in one of their rare moments of bliss.
- Culture is a lifeline for the characters. Tamoszius’ music transports to the lush, pastoral haven of home. In essence, it is an escape from the crippling industrial machine in which the characters find themselves encaged.
- However, we are informed almost immediately that there is no true escape from the harsh truths of the Chicago stockyard.
- Jurgis’ happiest moment is quickly eclipsed by the somber realization that the revered customs mean nothing now, as guests disregard the unspoken rule of donating money.
- Set to the vivacious hum of the fiddle, Jurgis and Ona’s tragic loss cripples them, and thrusts them (and the reader) into the throes of an unwinnable battle. The illusion created by the music is shattered.
- Surrounded by a city lacking in all aesthetic beauty, the impressive, transformative power of music can in the end only offer a temporary escape.
Age of Innocence
- Age of Innocence opens on an extravagant opera attended by “New York Society.”
- The potency of music here is surface-level. Its role is not as a healer or even a temporary relief, but rather as another custom to be listlessly followed.
- The newspapers are more absorbed in the brilliant audience than the talent on stage, and the audience itself only goes through the motions of attentiveness.
- Newland Archer is described as savoring the anticipation more than the actual experience, in his musical endeavors and otherwise.
- Yet, art has a much more prominent role in this than in The Jungle. Newland visits museums, discusses art and literature with Ellen, and even speaks of being a writer. Once again, however, the art almost always is a vehicle for something else (romance, desire to break from conformity, etc.). It is never in itself savored.
- This opening also unfolds on a moment that sets up the rest of the story: Ellen Olenska’s return
- Life mimicking art is a constant theme throughout Age of Innocence, and here we see the melodramatic mid-act entrance romanticized by Archer come to fruition
- The convention and drama of Archer’s reality works in tandem with the elaborate rituals of the opera.
- The musical rituals at Jurgis and Ona’s wedding offer a blissful, if heartbreakingly brief, escape for the protagonists from their reality. On the other hand, Newland is more immersed in the rigid conventions of the opera than the artistry; here, music is just another tendril of New York Society, sealing Archer in his bubble of conformity.
- The disparity in the opening passages is indicative of a crucial difference in the two stories.
- Both follow the journey of its protagonist as he becomes first aware, then disillusioned by, the machine in which he finds himself.
- Jurgis’ battle is against a disfigured, horrific enemy, an industry ugly in every sense of the word. Newland, however, is facing a more intrinsic fight, as he is pitted against an institution of convention that he still partially believes in, and that those around him fully trust.
- The reason culture plays so differently in these two stories is because in one it opposes the malicious forces working against our protagonist, while in the other it aids them.
- The Jungle
- “The musicians – how shall one begin to describe them? All this time they had been there, playing in a mad frenzy – all of this scene must be read, or said, or sung, to music. It is the music which makes it what it is; it is the music which changes the place from the rear-room of a saloon in back of the yards to a fairy place, a wonderland, a little corner of the high mansions of the sky.” (p. 9)
- “And this is their utterance; merry and boisterous, or mournful and wailing, or passionate and rebellious, this music is their music, music of home” (11)
- “The older people have dances from home…Some do not dance anything at all, but simply hold each other’s hands and allow the undisciplined joy of motion to express itself with their feet. Among these are Jokubas Szedvilas and his wife Lucija…a picture of toothless and perspiring ecstasy” (14)
- “The acziavimas is a ceremony which, once begun, will continue for three or four hours, and it involves one uninterrupted dance…The guests are expected to pay for this entertainment.” (p. 17)
- “Bit by bit these poor people have given up everything else; but to this they cling with all the power of their souls – they cannot give up the veselija! To do that would mean, not merely to be defeated, but to acknowledge defeat – and the difference between these two things is what keeps the world going.” (p. 18)
- “Marija was one of those hungry souls who cling with desperation to the skirts of the retreating muse…whether it was by beer, or by shouting, or by music, or by motion, she meant that [the wonderful exaltation] should not go” (p. 19)
- “The veselija is a compact, a compact not expressed, but therefore only the more binding upon all.”
- Age of Innocence
- “What the daily press had already learned to describe as “an exceptionally brilliant audience” had gathered to hear [Madame Nilsson]” (p. 3)
- “New York was a metropolis, and perfectly aware that in metropolises it was “not the thing” to arrive early at the opera; and what was or was not “the thing played a part as important in Newland Archer’s New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago” (p. 4)
- “He was at heart a dilettante, and thinking over a pleasure to come often gave him a subtler satisfaction than its realization” (p. 4)
- “If he had timed his arrival in accord with the prima donna’s stage-manager he could not have entered the Academy at a more significant moment than just as she was singing: “He loves me—he loves me not—he loves me!”” (p. 4)
- “In matters intellectual and artistic Newland Archer felt himself distinctly the superior of those chosen specimens of old New York gentility; he had probably read more, thought more, and even seen a good deal more of the world, than any other man of the number. Singly they betrayed their inferiority; but grouped together they represented “New York,” and the habit of masculine solidarity made him accept their doctrine on all the issues called moral.” (p. 7)
- “The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies” (p. 14)
Nicole — An outstanding topic. The contrasting nature of music vividly captures the difference between The Jungle and the Age of Innocence. In the former, it represents a briefly blissful moment, reaffirming the ties of the immigrants to the traditional culture of Lithuania, but proves in the long run to be their economic undoing, implicating them even more helplessly in the industrial machine. In the latter, music is trivialized by an audience arriving late and more preoccupied with the rituals of conformity than with what is happening on stage. A related detail: Tamoszius eventually gets blood poisoning and loses one of his fingers and the ability to play the violin, a metaphor for the fate of music in The Jungle. Nothing so physical in The Age of Innocence — the sense of loss in that novel is psychological.
Nicole– I agree that this is a terrific topic. A few things you might consider adding in if you have room: Are there any other examples of art / music playing an important role in Age of Innocence. I’m thinking of the ribbon scene, which seems like the only really meaningful interaction Newland has with art but there are probably a few more I’m forgetting. It could be interested to follow these threads farther into the novel. There are also class divides you could talk about. To the people of the Jungle appreciate the music more because they don’t take it for granted? How does the exclusivity of the opera house change the nature of the art it features? Also comparing and contrasting the traditions – since the opening scene of the Jungle sees traditions being violated, and the Age of Innocence features traditions being slavishly adhered to. – Sara