Ethan Frome. by Edith Wharton Essay

Ethan Frome. by Edith Wharton Essay

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The quiet town of Starkfield, Massachusetts silently and solemnly watches as the story of Ethan Frome, his repulsive wife Zeena, and the lively Mattie Silver and their tragic love triangle unfolds. When Mattie Silver, a cousin of Zeena, comes to live at the broken down Frome farm to take care of Zeena and her constant illnesses, Ethan begins to realize what real love can do to a person. Mattie starts to put light and meaning back into Ethan’s life, appearing to him as “a fairy maiden, a princess of nature” in Ethan’s dark and tedious world (Ammons 2). The dilemmas that Ethan faces about whether or not to choose duty over personal desire occur frequently, causing Ethan to experience many abrupt changes of heart. One minute Ethan speculates about “what he and Mattie were to live on when they reached the West” (Wharton 116). The next minute, he reverts back to a life with Zeena due to a new financial or obligatory obstacle, continuing the internal cycle of arguments he holds over his future. The reader knows from the beginning that Ethan turns out to be hopeless and “the ruin of a man” through the thoughts and relations of a newcomer engineer (Wharton 3). However, the spark of hope that remains in the reader for happiness for Ethan- or any of the characters- throughout the book is annihilated as the ending comes. The sledding suicide attempt of the two lovers, thwarted ironically by Zeena’s loathsome face appearing in Ethan’s mind and swaying his concentration, transformed Mattie “into a mirror-image of Zeena” and forces her to stay at the Frome household until death (Ammons 2). The last chapter in Ethan Frome reveals the horrible situation that “traps all three of them” and forces them to despise each other and relive their past eve...


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...n is “You’re crazy” (Wharton 143). However, Ethan is not confrontational and does not like defying others, which seems to be his fatal flaw. It seems that “the very heart of the novel is Frome’s weakness of character, his negation of life” (Bernard 6). Ethan’s situation could be seen as a challenge to his character, to see if he could overcome his faults in order to come out a happy man. Eventually, Ethan fails in the challenge that Starkfield presented to him, instead choosing to “merge himself with winter forever” (Bernard 6).



Works Cited

Ammons, Elizabeth. “Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and the Question of Meaning.” Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1979, pp. 127-140.
Bernard, Kenneth. “Imagery and Symbolism in Ethan Frome.” College English, Vol. 23, No. 1, October 1961, pp. 178-284.
Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. New York: Signet Classic, 1911.

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