Essay on Edith Wharton 's Ethan Frome

Essay on Edith Wharton 's Ethan Frome

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Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome takes place in the fictional town of Starkfield, Massachusetts. However, the economic and geographic problems of the town are not fictional, and were shared by many around the United States, specifically in the approximately 25 years of the early 20th century when the story took place. While these decades are known for their innovations in technology, travel, communication, and manufacturing, only a small and insignificant number of these innovations were present in the story, and they did not impact it in any meaningful way. Simply put, this poor, small, and rural town had seen the great changes in the world around it, but remained largely unaffected by them, further relying on the old ways of living. Therefore, the setting is a particularly driving force in the story because of its use of a harsh winter climate to advance the plot line, both before the arrival of the Narrator and during his stay, and because of its use of economic conditions to restrict certain plot advancements, which would have been otherwise present due to the technological advancements of the period.
There are many ways that the harsh winter climate affected the story, but the first and most direct effect of the climate was the fact that it gave the Narrator the ability to see the full truth regarding Ethan Frome’s life and then pass it on to the reader. While Harmon Gow and Ruth Hale certainly sparked the Narrator’s curiosity in Ethan Frome’s story, their depictions were incomplete. The easiest way to have filled the holes in the plots of their stories, was to have asked Ethan himself. However, Ethan is not very talkative nor approachable. The author needed a reason for the Narrator to get Ethan to talk to him, and the many bliz...


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... had given the Narrator the ability to tell story, the main characters the ability to experience it, both due to their isolation inside from the cold and fear of loneliness, and had forced the main three characters to stay in this setting, even though it was favorable to leave it. Furthermore, Wharton’s use of the economic situation of the town limited the character’s choices, forcing them to stay in the town when it was favorable to leave, but had also caused Mattie to work for the household because of her low wages. These two powerful forces set the limits and boundaries for the stories, and prevented possible plot-holes. The setting also contributed to the tone of the story, giving it a unique and localized setting that is known to the book. Therefore, the setting was certainly a powerful force in the story, and contributed to the majority of the plot advancement.

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