Helen Killoran explains in The Critical Reception of Edith Wharton that critics have always admired Wharton's craftsmanship, her attention to structure, and her subtle ironies, along with her description of interiors (attributed to her time as an interior designer). In the decades since the book's publication, critics have placed more stress on the portrayal of money and class distinctions in the book.
Ellen Olenska and May Welland have also long been at the heart of critical discussion. Originally perceived as having done the right thing by talking about her pregnancy in order to save her marriage, May Welland can also be seen as manipulative rather than sympathetically desperate. Ellen Olenska brings up the general "Woman Question" in modern literary criticism.
Rather than focusing on the lavish lifestyle which Newland Archer has not had to work for, some modern readers identify with his grim outlook.