Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton is set in Starkfield, a small community plagued by harsh winters that seem to ebb away at life. In this town lives Ethan Frome, a crippled man who seems to be the physical embodiment of mortal suffering. An new arrival to the town, is drawn by Ethan. He is compelled to uncover the story behind the enigmatic man. What he discovers is a tragic tale of human suffering, an excellent example of tragic irony.
Ethan was married to a cold complaining woman named Zenobia, nicknamed Zeena. His only joy in life was Zeena’s younger cousin Mattie Silver, who stays with them as help for Zeena in her illness. Ethan grows to love Mattie. When Mattie is forced to leave by Zenobia, Ethan discovers that Mattie shares his love. However the two cannot find a way to escape the town they live in to start a new life together. Caught up in a rush of passion, they try to commit suicide and fail. Ethan is crippled and Mattie is paralyzed. They can now never leave town for a life together. And Ethan is doomed to a life of silence with two complaining women.
Edith Wharton’s writing style in Ethan Frome is impeccable. On the surface, Ethan Frome is simply a good story. Mrs. Wharton however adds incredible depth by the careful use of description, and symbolism. And her use of irony makes the tragedy of the story even more poignant.
An excellent example of the symbolism in the book is the relationship between the weather of starkfield and the main characters of the book. Ethan Frome is living proof of what winters in Starkfield do to the human soul. As the narrator exclaims in the prologue, “Why, he looks as if he were dead and in hell now!”. A close examination of Mrs. W…
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…ave, it seemed to Ethan that she had become “an alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of silent brooding.”
Ethan was drawn to Mattie because she represented all things summer and happiness to him. He rejected Zeena who had become the living symbol of silence, winter and unhappiness. The tragic irony of Ethan Frome was that after the “smash-up” Mattie became the complaining cold person while Zeena has to take on Mattie’s role as a caretaker. Ethan is now a cripple who can only stay during the long winters of Starkfield. And also the long winters of moral isolation of silence and unhappiness and brood on what might have been. As Ethan comments in the prologue on his experience in the warmth of Florida winters, “Yes: I was down there once, and for a good while afterward I could call up the sight of it in a winter. But now its all snowed under.”
Essay on Themes of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome
The Underlying Themes of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome
Two of Edith Wharton’s greatest novels, The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome can be seen to have similarities in the situations the characters go through and themes that are used. Each of these novels has it’s own themes and traits that makes it great, but after examining each novel it is evident thatthere are underlying themes that link the two stories together. Perhaps the most obvious is the weakness that both Ethan Frome and Newland Archer seem to have in there lives. The feeling of being trapped, and wanting that sense of freedom is also an important part of both novels. Of course there are themes and symbolisms within each that contribute to the great differences between the two. In The Age of Innocence, mortality and immortality is one of the greatest aspects or themes; and in Ethan Frome the weakness of Ethan’s character can be seen as one of the main focus’.
To understand the background on either of these novels, it is best to understand a little of Wharton’s biographical background (this helps to see why similar situations are portrayed in both novels). Wharton lived in New York city and was raised to be a “daughter of society”, always putting forth her best manners and showing respect to the rituals of society. This attributed greatly to The Age of Innocence which has been described as “a masterful portrait of desire and betrayal set in New York City of her youth.”
Her marriage to Teddy Wharton is said to be where the basis of thought came from for the novel Ethan Frome. She discovered that her husband had been cheating on her and supporting a mistress living in Boston, and she soon met and fell in love with someone else too. In Ethan Frome the book is viewed by many people as a novel about an affair and the love that Ethan finds in another woman, not his wife.
Ethan Frome takes place in the small New England village of Starkfield Massachusetts and the scenery and natural surroundings are great aspects of the book. It is just a boring cold farm town, and often enough the harsh winters cause the people there to become very ill. The eerie cold helped to create the solemn and tragic mood of this novel, and was a part of the symbolism.