Ethan Frome, By Edith Wharton

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In Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton conveys that you will never be satisfied if you try to choose between love and responsibility. Through her use of the metaphor comparing winter to Ethan and his life, Wharton illustrates the dissatisfaction that comes from attempting to choose between two equally beneficial and detrimental choices. There are several reoccurring elements that appear in Ethan Frome; the most noticeable and perhaps the most meaningful is the reoccurring metaphor that compares the characteristics of winter to every part of Ethan and his life. This metaphor illustrates the longing that Ethan feels to find a balance between love and responsibility, and the dissatisfaction that he experiences when it becomes obvious that he cannot have both. The first component of the metaphor is the sense of cold that is repeatedly brought up throughout the book. A line came up when Ethan was speaking with Mr. Hale that is an example of how the winter chill permeates every part of Ethan; it says, “’Sit right down and thaw out,’ he greeted Ethan. The latter did not know how to begin” (Wharton 31). This quote shows just how deep the cold runs inside Ethan. He has been through so much in his life; with his parents’ deaths, his wife’s illness, and his money issues, Ethan started to absorb the cold dread from his surroundings. This cold that formed from hardship and loneliness is so ingrained into him that he doesn’t even know where to begin the process of thawing out. It is a major contributing factor to Ethan’s desperation for love; he craves Mattie’s warmth, but he is restrained by a sense of duty to Zeena. With Mattie near he has a taste of the warmth that could be, but he is kept out in the never ending cold because of Zeena’s pull. Win... ... middle of paper ... ... darkness and winter chill. To choose love would be to go against his morals by abandoning his wife and leaving her with the burden of their struggling land. There was no option that would leave Ethan fully satisfied. In a twisted way Ethan did find a sort of medium between love and responsibility, but it turned his love bitter and left him an empty shell caught between the woman he felt obligated to stay with and the woman he hoped to love. A quote in the beginning of the book ties together the metaphor and the theme by saying, “He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe” this is a powerful quote because what Ethan is going through is so strongly represented by the frozen landscape. He is barren of love, and is trapped in an endless cold winter of darkness and misery brought upon him by the choice between love and obligation.

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