Ethan Frome Essay

1047 words - 4 pages

' Through her portrayal of Ethan and Mattie's relationship, Wharton deplores a society where societal expectations deny people their chance of happiness.' " Her hat slipped back and he was stroking her hair. He wanted to get the feeling of it into his hand, so it would sleep there like a seed in winter. Once he found her mouth again, they were once again by the pond together in the burning August sun." It is the tragedy of "Ethan Frome" that these ill-fated lovers, Ethan and Mattie, are reduced to something "bleak and unapproachable". A couple who are refused their chance of happiness because of the rigorous social restrictions binding them to a life that represses love and happiness. Clearly Wharton, through her portrayal of their relationship, wants readers to put aside their preconceived notions of fidelity and adultery to recognize that the two were denied their chance of happiness.Ethan Frome lives trapped by the social expectations, which are placed upon him seemingly since the time of his birth. Wharton openly implores us to admire Ethan's endurance of his unfortunate life, as she paints a compassionate picture of him with a "look in his face that neither poverty nor physical suffering could have put there". We are led to feel pity for the man who, as a last resort, married Zeena, in an "unsuccessful attempt to escape the silence, isolation, and loneliness" of living a life where social acceptance was had at the cost of his own happiness.From the outset, Wharton creates warmth of feeling between readers and the character of Mattie. She creates an imagery of Mattie that emphasises all the qualities that she admires herself - love, beauty and vibrance, portraying them in such a way that we are ourselves are led to appreciate and value them. Her innocent demeanor is magnified by the harsh circumstances of her life, and readers are left feeling pity and sympathy for the girl who has 'never had anyone be good to her'. Ethan finds himself falling in love with Mattie, drawn to her youthful energy, as, "the pure air, and the long summer hours in the open, give life and elasticity to her". To Ethan, Mattie is like "a window that has caught the sunset"; Her effect on him was likened to "spring rills in a thaw". Her qualities are exemplified when contrasted against the descriptions of Zeena, whose face was "drawn and bloodless, "greyish", and "sallow. Ethan sees in Mattie, a spirit of vibrancy that is far beyond the scope of his trite life in Starkfeild, bringing a light into his dismal life.Throughout the novel we see the relationship and the blossoming of tender emotions develop, we feel that the characters ought to fulfil their passion and we resent their reluctance to face the consequences that go hand in hand with their feelings. The scene where Zeena leaves town is perhaps the most provoking scene of the novel, as Wharton drives home the social and psychological restrictions that stop the two lovers from being together - even when they are...

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