Edith Wharton's novel, "The Age of Innocence," is a masterful examination of the social mores and conventions of New York's high society in the late 19th century. The novel explores the role of social class in shaping the lives and decisions of its characters, revealing how class distinctions and expectations influence their behavior, relationships, and aspirations.

At the heart of the novel is the story of Newland Archer, an upper-class lawyer who falls in love with Countess Ellen Olenska, a woman from a socially inferior background who has returned to New York after separating from her abusive husband. The novel portrays the conflicts and tensions that arise from their forbidden love, as well as the pressures that prevent them from pursuing their desires.

One of the most significant themes of the novel is the rigidity of social class distinctions and the power of societal expectations. The characters in the novel are deeply aware of their social standing and the expectations that come with it. Their behavior, manners, and speech are all shaped by these expectations, and they are constantly aware of the need to conform to the norms of their class. This is particularly evident in the character of Newland Archer, who is torn between his desire for Ellen and his loyalty to the conventions of his social class.

The novel also explores the impact of social class on individual agency and personal choice. The characters in the novel are constrained by the expectations of their class, which limit their opportunities and restrict their choices. This is particularly evident in the character of Ellen, who is ostracized by New York society because of her separation from her husband and her unconventional behavior. Her social status prevents her from pursuing her own desires and living life on her own terms.

Furthermore, the novel also examines the ways in which social class intersects with gender and race. The female characters in the novel, in particular, are subject to the expectations and restrictions of their class as well as those of their gender. They are expected to be submissive, obedient, and to uphold the moral standards of their class. This is evident in the character of May Welland, Newland's fiancée, who is the epitome of the perfect upper-class woman.

Finally, the novel also reveals the ways in which social class can be used as a tool of power and control. The characters in the novel use their social status to manipulate and influence others, particularly those from lower social classes. This is evident in the character of Julius Beaufort, a wealthy financier who uses his money and social connections to gain power and influence in New York society.

Overall, "The Age of Innocence" is a powerful exploration of the role of social class in shaping individual lives and choices. The novel reveals the ways in which class distinctions and expectations can limit agency, constrain personal choice, and dictate behavior. It also exposes the ways in which social class can be used as a tool of power and control, and the impact of social class on gender and race. Through its nuanced portrayal of New York society in the late 19th century, the novel remains a timeless and insightful commentary on the complexities of human nature and the enduring influence of social class.