"Ms. Wharton often employed dichotomy in her own life: her role as socialite and author, woman of old New York and European maverick, and her life as spouse or beloved. Compartmentalizing her life’s roles prevented her from having to compromise the distinct qualities of each paradigm. Similarly, in The Age of Innocence, Ellen and May are completely opposite representations of life and culture in the 1870s who cannot happily coexist together. Wharton draws this contrast by painting their psychological landscapes, relying heavily on the motifs of water and fire, elements that if combined are mutually destructive."
Hillary Kelly suggests that Wharton's "status made her story more than believable—it made the story real ... Novelists before Wharton understood that storytelling was an act of exposure, but she built it into the architecture of The Age of Innocence and weaponized it."