Absence of Light and Life in Ethan Frome
Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton is set in Starkfield, a small community plagued by harsh winters that seem to ebb away at life. In this town lives Ethan Frome, a crippled man who seems to be the physical embodiment of mortal suffering. An new arrival to the town, is drawn by Ethan. He is compelled to uncover the story behind the enigmatic man. What he discovers is a tragic tale of human suffering, an excellent example of tragic irony.
Ethan was married to a cold complaining woman named Zenobia, nicknamed Zeena. His only joy in life was Zeena's younger cousin Mattie Silver, who stays with them as help for Zeena in her illness. Ethan grows to love Mattie. When Mattie is forced to leave by Zenobia, Ethan discovers that Mattie shares his love. However the two cannot find a way to escape the town they live in to start a new life together. Caught up in a rush of passion, they try to commit suicide and fail. Ethan is crippled and Mattie is paralyzed. They can now never leave town for a life together. And Ethan is doomed to a life of silence with two complaining women.
Edith Wharton's writing style in Ethan Frome is impeccable. On the surface, Ethan Frome is simply a good story. Mrs. Wharton however adds incredible depth by the careful use of description, and symbolism. And her use of irony makes the tragedy of the story even more poignant.
An excellent example of the symbolism in the book is the relationship between the weather of starkfield and the main characters of the book. Ethan Frome is living proof of what winters in Starkfield do to the human soul. As the narrator exclaims in the prologue, "Why, he looks as if he were dead and in hell now!". A close examination of Mrs. Wharton's imagery shows an association between Mattie and summer, warmth, and happiness. While Zeena is associated with winter, silence, and death.
All the imagery associated with Mattie and Zeena have been carefully placed by Mrs. Wharton in order to add depth to the story. Mrs. Wharton however does not use it in abundance. The references cited below are most examples of imagery in the entire novel. Mrs. Wharton is very austere with description. So when a piece of very descriptive imagery is inserted, it has special significance and importance.
As previously stated imagery concerning Mattie is very warm and summer-like. Mattie's face seems to Ethan like "a window that has caught the sunset". Her effect on Ethan was likened to " spring rills in a thaw". Mattie's mood changes were, to Ethan "the flit of a bird in the branches.". When Ethan puts his arm around Mattie when they...