Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

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“The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, unless you water it.” Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome is based upon this proverb, where Ethan Frome is trapped in this miserable life with Zeena only because he does not truly love her. This can be seen when Mattie Silver enters the Frome’s house as a housekeeper, Ethan begins to love Mattie imagining his life with her would be enjoyable. Ethan married Zeena only to escape the silence and loneliness after his mother’s death. As the proverb suggests, if he were to truly love Zeena, then he would not view his life miserable. Edith Wharton uses the contrast of light and dark imagery in elaborating upon the graceful and untroubled aspects, as opposed to the dark and hopeless elements of Starkfield, so the reader can recognize this overall theme that there is still some light in darkness. In other words, one should appreciate what they have, even if something else appears more attractive.

Wharton use of imagery in a likable manner allows the reader to enjoy the setting, so the theme can be enhanced. For instance, Starkfield at first is described with “winter mornings clear as a crystal. The sunrise burned red in a pure sky, the shadows on the rim of the wood-lot were darkly blue, and beyond the white scintillating fields of far-off forest hung like smoke,” (24). This creates this pleasant, uplifting view upon the town. Wharton’s word choice also suggests that Ethan’s view upon the world embellishes whenever Mattie is around. For example, during Ethan’s walk home with Mattie from the church dance, the narrator describes “the night was so still that they heard the frozen snow crackle beneath their feet. The crash of a loaded branch falling far off in the woods reverberated like a musket-shot, and once a fox barked, and Mattie shrank closer to Ethan” (20). The reader gets this very positive attitude to certain situations through Wharton’s imagery.

Much of the opposite, Wharton use of gloomy imagery for the reader to dislike a certain setting or character also enhances the theme. In particular, the vivid description of the wind and snow in Starkfield gives the reader a label of despair on the town. As the narrator describes Starkfield, “the snow had ceased, and a flash of watery sunlight exposed the house on the slope above us in all its plaintive ugliness. The black wraith of a deciduous creeper flapped from the porch, and the thin wooden walls, under their worn coast of paint, seemed to shiver in the wind that had risen with the ceasing of the snow” (8). The downtrodden image painted in this quotation describes both the environment, as well indirectly describing Ethan. The narrator goes on describing Ethan’s “loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it the profound accumulated cold of many winters” (5). Just as his house was once new and beautiful but is now torn by many harsh winters in Starkfield, so is Ethan’s will to survive by the disrupting winter.

Imagery consists of descriptive language, which aids in the reader’s understanding of each character, whether the character is portrayed as a friendly and positive person or a condemned and despised member of society. Wharton’s style makes the reader favor a certain character and feel connected to that character which in turn develops the overall theme of the novella. When Ethan went to the church dance to pick Mattie up, he noticed “the steam from the hot water beading her forehead and tightening her rough hair into little brown rings like the tendrils on the traveller’s joy” (42). Through the imagery, the reader can realize that Mattie is a contrast to Starkfield, sinch she is portrayed as this warm character, whereas the community of Starkfield is seen as cold.

On the other hand, imagery can be used to make the reader dislike the same character which can help to advance the theme. In the Novella the negative imagery was used in association with Zeena. The narrator describes Zeena “looking so hard and lonely, sitting there in the darkness.”(47) When Zeena explains to Ethan that a new maiden girl is needed, Ethan views Zeena as “no longer the listless creature who had lived at his side in a state of sullen self-absorption, but a mysterious alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of silent brooding.” (50)Wharton presents two sides of a character, allowing the reader to judge, which side does the character really belong.

Cite this paper

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. (2021, Oct 25). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/ethan-frome-by-edith-wharton/

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