Ethan Frome

This essay has a total of 1539 words and 5 pages.

Ethan Frome


Ethan Frome, the main character in the Edith Wharton novel Ethan Frome, is a man who lives
in a world of silence. He lives in the New England town of Starkfield, Massachusetts, with
his bitter wife and his wife's cousin Mattie. Over time Ethan is a man who has become
trapped in Starkfield due to the number of winters he has endured. The mood throughout the
novel is that of Winter. Winter connotes detachment, loneliness, bleakness, bitterness,
and seclusion which are all portrayed in the novel. This essay will show how Edith Wharton
uses seasonal symbolism to heighten the tragedy in the novel. Ethan is a twenty-eight year
old man who feels trapped in his home town of Starkfield, Massachusetts. The novel takes
place in the late 1800's, this was a hard time for all but when you add in the harsh
winters of Starkfield things get worse. The novel beings with a description of Starkfield,
"the village lay under two feet of snow, with drifts at the windy corners" (Wharton 15)
this is a basic picture of Starkfield throughout the novel. Starkfield like Ethan has
given into the rigors of the many winter. Ethan is a poor farmer who has to support a
"sickly" wife who does nothing but complain about everything. Ethan married his wife of
seven years, Zeena, who is a bit older than he, following the death of his mother, in an
unsuccessful attempt to escape the silence, isolation, and the loneliness of the life of
Starkfield. The setting for Ethan Frome is winter. Edith Wharton , the author, chose
winter because it symbolizes the emotional, physical isolation, cold, darkness and death
that surround Ethan. Similarly, the name of the town Starkfield is symbolic of Ethan's
life. Stark depicts the many harsh winters causing unproductive, spiritless, and
devastation to the people of Starkfield. One citizen may have said it best, "Guess he's
been in Starkfield too many winters" (5). The reader can take this statement one of two
ways; that his livelihood has been taken away after the number of winters he has endure in
Starkfield, or that his appearance is that of a weather beaten man. "There was something
bleak and unapproachable in his face" (3). The key word in that quotation is bleak, that
is a word used quite often to describe winter. Ethan at this point has no regard for his
physical appearance, it's as if all he is doing is trying to get through another winter.
The narrator notes, " During the early part of my stay I had been struck, the climate and
the deadness of the community" (5). Wharton emphasizes the rigor of life in a harsh
community with its cold winters and its bleakness. The whole community is lifeless and
stark, this is not a town for anyone to prosper in. The snow had ceased, and a flash of
watery sunlight exposed the house on the slope above us in a plaintive ugliness. The black
wraith of a deciduous creeper flapped form the porch, and the thin wooden walls, under
their worn coats of paint, seemed to shiver in the wind that had risen with the ceasing
snow (11) This depressing image painted in this quotation describes the environment , as
well as Ethan. Just as Ethan's home was once new but has been torn apart by the many harsh
winters in Starkfield, so to was poor old Ethan. Ethan's home has suffered the loss of it
"L": "the long deep-roofed adjunct usually built next to the main home, connecting it,
through storerooms and tool-house" (11). Ethan removed this portion of his home in order
to make his life easier or better yet as a type of symbolism. Consider, the "L" of ones
home "presents of a link with the soil, and enclosing in itself the chief sources of
warmth and nourishment" (11). One can compare the destruction of the "L" on his home to
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