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This book by Edith Wharton was published in 1920, a time of change. World War I had devasted most of Europe and left a generation of people, young and old, feeling cynical and bitter about life, society, and government. There had been too many horrors to bear. Society began to change, as many of the old Victorian traditions of behavior were challenged - but as is always the case, change is threatening and society tried to cling to the old ways.
Wharton's book is satirical in many ways. It shows New York City society at the time and the restrictions of behavior that an individual faced, particularly an female individual. It criticized the attempts of society to lock people in gender and social roles, not allowing individuals to get ahead if they did anything to tamper their all-important reputation. It also worked to caution against too much change, to show that a drastic upheaval of tradition would cause many to feel lost and aimless. Overall, the purpose was to point out the conflict between an individual and the rules of the society that individual lived in.
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