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Essay on Wharton’s Ethan Frome: Despair


Ethan Frome Despair is not anonymous, it has a name, and the name is Starkfield. “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters.” This significant phrase describing Ethan Frome in the prologue of Edith Wharton’s novel, Ethan Frome, provides insight into the most major theme portrayed in this story. The imagery of the harshness and despair of winter, first brought up in the prologue, is present in every aspect of this book. Winter describes the character of Zeena as well as the character of Ethan after the “smash up” which contrasts that of Mattie, Ethan’s true love. It is also used to illustrate the themes of silence and isolation, and darkness and despair.

Zeena is a character often portrayed using harsh winter imagery. She is characterized as controlling, insensitive, and rather unattractive. This is evident in Ethan’s perception of her prior to her doctor’s visit when he says that she is sitting in “the pale light reflected from the banks of the snow.” The images of snow which first appear in the prologue symbolize this character’s personality. The fact that Ethan connects his wife with the severity and strength of winter snow illustrates that he envisions her as stringent and powerful, characteristics he dislikes.

Throughout the novel, Ethan is attracted to true inner beauty, something he believes Zeena lacks. He considers his marriage a mistake and attributes it to the fact that he met Zeena at a time when he felt isolated and alone, another major theme in the book. After his mother died one winter, he needed companionship and attached himself to Zeena. Ethan resents winter because he associates it with the death of a loved one. Due to his isolation, Ethan overlooks Ze…

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…e what Ethan becomes after the “smash-up.” Ethan is essentially dead spiritually and the author uses the desolate imagery of wintertime to show this. The narrator also describes Ethan’s appearance by saying, “He looks as if he was dead and in hell now!” Ethan’s world is dark despair after the accident. He realizes that there was no escape from Starkfield and the harsh reality of the dead winters. He is at the mercy of winter and is forced to see what his love, Mattie, has become. Ethan’s appearance at the end of the prologue represents what he strives to avoid throughout the novel, a tragic end.

The prologue introduces several of the novel’s major themes, the most prominent being that of winter harshness. Hence, it foreshadows the major events in the book and provides insight into the personalities of the characters.

Essay on Wharton’s Ethan Frome: Nature

Nature in Ethan Frome

Every winter frigid white bullets, squalling gusts, and icicle shards swaddle the town of Starkfield in a frosty white glaze. It is easy to understand why the people emerge from this six month siege like starved troops capitulating without shelter. Most people evacuate the premises immediately after suffering through a devastating winter, but not Ethan Frome. Circumstances hindered the flight of this man. As one retired stage driver remarked, “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters. Most of the smart ones get away.”

The statement by Harmon Gow, a resident of Starkfield, relates to Ethan Frome, the protagonist of the novel, Ethan Frome. This book pieces together the enigmatic life of a man bound by the shackles of silence and isolation. By deftly heightening suspense and foreshadowing plot, Edith Wharton explores nature’s degeneration of human spirit and vitality.

Mr. Gow’s quote delves into two integral aspects of the book: how the unrelenting blows of nature corrode, yet intertwine with man’s spirit, and how the seas…

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