Ethan Frome as A Psychological Novel
Many authors have tried to convey truths about human behavior and explain the human psyche, often unsuccessfully. Edith Wharton's novel, Ethan Frome, is an example of a novel that succeeds in revealing truths. She fills her characters with nuances that reflect the subconscious and her setting is alive with reflected symbolism. She is able to interpret the characters actions in a way that can relate to all humans. Each word and phrase seems to be chosen so that it reflects a part of the subconscious in the characters.
Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome is an examination of the human mind, based on her use of setting to reflect emotion, characterization to show human tendencies towards chaos and other psychological aspects of the human mind. In Ethan Frome, Wharton uses the setting to show the feelings and psychology of the characters. Because the tone of the novel is somber and the characters suffer greatly, Wharton used the gothic technique of matching the scenery to the characters emotions. The principal setting of the novel is Starkfield, which is a small farming based community. The houses are mostly several miles from the "center" of town. Richard Worth, a literary critic, says of Starkville, "...even the name suggests utter desolation" (64). The name of the town gives the initial impression of the mindset of the characters: hopelessness. "The New England winter... the physical landscape can reinforce psychic tensions oppressing the people in the community" (McDowell 85). The narrator, Harmon Gow, describes the setting and says, "...the winter set down on Starkfield, and the village lay under a sheet of snow, perpetually renewed from the pale skies"(7). During the entirety of the novel, the Starkfield weather is brutally cold and snowy.
Winter and coldness are some of the predominant images in the book. The snow and cold restate the cruelty of the characters' situations. The setting, using the bleakness of winter, "...provides a complicated time scheme through which the author could dramatically contrast the bleak existence of her characters in the present with their youthful expectations in the past." (McDowell 74). The winter scenery provides testament to things gone wrong, almost a romantic styled sympathy of nature. The color scheme used to describe the setting mirrored the desolation of the character's feelings. "The black shade of the varnum spruces becomes gray under the stars" (Wharton 34). The gray of the backdrop symbolized the disturbance between what was right and what was best for Ethan. . "There is no sharp line between the normal and abnormal psyche, nor between the real and supernatural. In the vast remote area, covered by snow, the sharp line between psychic dislocation and spirit world dissolves" (McDowell 85). The absence of a "sharp line" was shown with the used of an intermediate gray tone, which was seen recurring thorough out the novel. There was no right or wrong in...