English 1100 Project 3:  Age of Innocence


For this project, you will be writing a 6-8 page essay in which you support an original thesis on Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.


Your thesis can focus on anything you want, but here are some suggestions:

  • Narration/Point of View
  • Theme
  • Situation/Setting
  • Symbol/Figurative Language
  • Plot
  • Character


As part of your paper, you should try to situate the work and your thesis within larger contexts, such as any of the following:

  • The Author
  • History/Culture
  • Critical Scholarship


Besides The Age of Innocence, you should incorporate at least six other sources into your essay. Those sources can include any of the articles included at the back of your Norton Critical Edition of The Age of Innocence. Any essay that does not include a works cited page or make a reasonable effort to use in-text citations will receive a zero.

Levels of Abstraction

A successful essay will include sentences that focus on different levels of abstraction. Five ascending levels of abstraction are listed below and rated on a scale from 1 (for least abstract) to 5 (for most abstract):

  • Level 1: Some sentences should just give the raw, concrete, unmediated data from the text.
  • Level 2: Some sentences should describe individual pieces of evidence through a plain or interpretive summary.
  • Level 3: Some sentences should provide broader summaries that draw two or more pieces of evidence together or that provide a broad example.
  • Level 4: Some sentences should orient the reader on a problem to be solved or on pulling abstract concepts together to help solve that problem.
  • Level 5: Some sentences will be general and broadly oriented toward a solution or a conclusion.

For example, if you were writing about the implications of one of the female characters wearing a particular dress, you should try to use all five levels of abstraction:

  • Level 1 (raw data): You could quote the text or provide the details of a particular image in the text, such as by providing a detailed description of a dress featured in the text.
  • Level 2 (summary description of specific evidence): You could summarize generally what the dresses are like that other women are wearing.
  • Level 3 (draw pieces of evidence together): You could summarize how the first dress you described fits in (or does not fit in) with the other dresses you described generally in this particular setting.
  • Level 4 (orient reader to problems and abstract concepts): You could suggest to the reader what the implication are of whether this dress matches the kinds of dresses other women are wearing. Are there abstract concepts (like freedom, peer pressure, or social class) that might be relevant? How?
  • Level 5 (provide a general conclusion): What is your conclusion about the implications of the dress?


Your essay should be properly formatted:

  • Should follow the MLA rules for citation and format.
  • Should be in Times New Roman, Size 12 font, with 1 inch margins


As you read The Age of Innocence, I suggest that you keep a notebook next to you. As you read, make a list of whatever themes, ideas, questions, or other aspects of the text that catch your attention. Write a page number beside your additions to the list. This will help you later quickly find pages to cite to when you are writing your paper. If you are lost on what to write your paper about, you can also look over this list to see if there are any common aspects of the text that might be good to focus on.

I would first write a tentative thesis and then write an outline. To build that outline, write a list of any items you think you need to address to prove or explain your thesis. Then rearrange and combine items to find whatever organization you think would be most helpful to you to communicate your argument.

I suggest trying first to write three or four pages of close textual analysis of the book before you do much outside research. Once you have your own original perspective solidified on paper, then look at what other people have written that touch upon similar concerns. Then, revise your rough draft to incorporate those other sources as support, to respond to those other sources, or to fix issues in your own argument that the other sources revealed to you.

Starting on page 1971 of your Norton anthology, there are summaries of various theories that literary scholars often use when analyzing a work. You may want to consider using one of these theories. For instance, how might you make a Marxist interpretation of The Age of Innocence?

Important Dates

  • Bring a tentative thesis sentence to class: November 15th
  • Bring a tentative outline to class: November 17th
  • Bring a rough draft of your essay to class (print it out!): November 22nd
  • November 29th: Work day. No attendance taken. I will be in our normal classroom during our normal time, and I will be available to help you on your papers. Feel free to work in our classroom on your paper or work elsewhere.
  • December 1st: Work day. No attendance taken. I will be in our normal classroom during our normal time, and I will be available to help you on your papers. Feel free to work in our classroom on your paper or work elsewhere.
  • Essay Final Draft: due December 1st by 11:59 pm. Submit as a PDF using the “Project 3 Final Draft” dropbox.


  • Essay Final Draft: 100%

This project will comprise 20% of your final grade for the class.

Late Work

  • Your essays may be turned in late any time prior to 11:59 pm on the Friday of final exam week. However, your grade on your final drafts will decrease by 3% for every day overdue up to a maximum penalty of 15%. If you turn in your paper late, I cannot guarantee I will have time to grade it until the end of the semester.
  • You may turn in your late essay through Elearning as a pdf using the “Late Work” dropbox.


After you receive your grade for your essay, I will permit you to turn in a revised version once to try to get a better grade. To receive a better grade, however, your revised version must demonstrate substantial improvement and revision. Superficial changes will not result in a better grade. You are encouraged to meet with me prior to turning in your revised version.

If you choose to revise your essay, you may turn it in at any time in the semester prior to 11:59 pm on the Friday of the final exam week. However, any late penalties you received from turning in your final draft late the first time will carry over to your revised version. You may turn in your revised version through Elearning as a pdf using the “Revision” dropbox.