Ethan Frome Essay

1248 words - 5 pages

Ethan Frome was an interesting book to read. It starts with detailed, engaging description and introductory development of setting and characters. Throughout the middle pages, the progression of plot to its eventual climax is a compelling story to follow. The resolution of the story possesses traits of tragedy and was rather surprising and cruel, but works to place a proverbial cherry upon the story. This ending clearly defines the message delivered by the story as a whole and is thus a powerful conclusion to an absorbing, fictional narration of a few days in Starkfield. To alter such an ending is to fundamentally change the meaning of the story. Consequently, if the controversial completion of the novel conveys Wharton’s intended theme, which one would assume it does, it serves to augment and enhance the story. The reviewer’s opinion that the “exaggerated terror” of Wharton’s ending ruins the entire novel seems completely incorrect. Several passages throughout the story serve to foreshadow such an ending, and the “great tragedy,” which the reviewer expected, would detract from the power of the book by lumping it with numerous other works of similar plot. Overall, Ethan Frome’s close makes sense within the context of the story, assists the transfer of the theme to the reader, and sets the novel apart from others.
While reading the novel for the first time, the ending comes as a shock to the reader. However, there exists several passages interspersed throughout the pages that serve to foreshadow the unfortunate ending. One such scenario appears when Ethan encounters his wife at the door and Zeena’s appearance is described (page 34), and later, Mattie, not Zeena, stands at the same door, holding the same lamp, and her appearance is described in the same light (page 49). Despite the fact that Mattie’s description is far more appealing than Zeena’s, the unquestionable identity between the two settings suggests Mattie will one day acquire a physical appearance similar to that of Mattie. The settings were the same, so it can be inferred that the descriptions too may eventually become the same. This means that Mattie will live long enough to see herself essentially turn into a Zeena, which is exactly what results from Ethan and Mattie’s botched attempt at suicide, and these two passages thus hint at the eventual ending. Another item within the story that fits with the ending involves the pickledish that Mattie breaks. This pickledish represents to Zeena her marriage, and when she discovers its shattered state, she displays intense emotion and eventually, “gathering up the bits of broken glass she went out of the room as if she carried a dead body” (page 72). Upon initial reading, this appears to indicate that, since the dish represents her marriage, the marriage is over. However, the dish is not completely disintegrated or unrecognizable; rather, it simply lays in ruin, destroyed but existent. After breaking the dish,...

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