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Edith Wharton's "Ethan Frome" A Review

1070 words - 5 pages

In "Ethan Frome", Wharton uses imagery to depict the ways individual expression is repressed by social constraints. "Ethan Frome", the protagonist in the tragic novel, is a victim of the social expectations. The setting for the novel, Starkfield, is bleak and barren, like the "deadness of the community". Wharton criticises the traditional conventions, which prevent Ethan from escaping from a marriage in which he has no happiness, to pursue a new life.Ethan's marriage to the hypochondriac Zeena is Wharton's way of expressing her disapproval of the traditional conventions of the early 20th century. Zeena is portrayed as a "mysterious alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years ...view middle of the document...

Wharton suggests that social constraints are able to push individuals to suicide as the only way of escaping their lives within a community. Ethan's bleak and desolate house is symbolic of Ethan himself. Wharton describes the house as "exanimate", and stated that a "black wraith of deciduous creeper flapped from the porch". It is a symbol of death and reminds the reader that Ethan is living death in itself, as he is unable to express his true feelings for Mattie. Wharton constructs the novel in a way where readers would have to consider that the true tragedy in the novel as she saw it was the social expectations that was predominant in the early 20th century.The characters are mainly inhibited by the class differences and by poverty. The class identification that is dominant in Starkfield is reminiscent of Wharton's society. When Mattie was about to be sent away, Ethan considers leaving with Mattie, but is stopped when he realises that he did not have any money, and had to consider Mattie in his financial plans. His moral conscience prevents him from leaving Zeena as he worries that she would be "alone and destitute". Wharton is compassionate about poverty, and empathises with it, "my heart tightens at the thought of the hard compulsions of the poor."Wharton explores the theme of repression through Ethan and Zeena's relationship. Zeena had "mastered him" and she oppressed him with her notions of ill health. Ethan is repressed by his poverty, morality and his marriage.Wharton creates a bleak and dreary setting to show the isolation of the characters and their mental state. The name of the town, Starkfield, is symbolic of Ethan's arid life. Stark denotes the lifelessness and devastation of the people. The setting is winter, as it symbolises the emotional and physical isolation, cold, darkness and death that surround Ethan. The narrator says that Ethan is like a piece of the "mute,...

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