Ethan Frome Vs. The Awakening Essay

1307 words - 5 pages

Is independence an intangible dream? Are people truly individuals, or merely products of their environment? Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin explore the question in Ethan Frome and The Awakening, in which the protagonists are led by outside forces to challenge societal conventions. Employing the use of characterization, symbolism, and metaphor, the authors demonstrate that attempting to do so can lead to one's destruction. The main characters in Frome and Awakening fill necessary roles and share similar attributes. Ethan is described as a loner, quiet, and uncomfortable interacting with people in town, even with Mattie, the woman he loves. He cowers in the formidable presence of his bitter wife, unwilling to defend himself against her wrath. Similarly, Edna feels out of place in both the relaxed Creole environment and stiff Victorian society. In many instances, she does not even understand herself and can't explain her behavior to family or friends. Both characters struggle to escape their surroundings. Ethan dreams desperately of leaving Starkfield behind for the West while Edna builds her own dream house in favor of the "gilded cage" in which her husband placed her. The "villainess" of Wharton's novelette is Zenobia Frome, Ethan's wife. She is characterized repeatedly as embittered, inscrutable, and sickly. Her marriage to Ethan is loveless and she prefers nursing her many illnesses than keeping the company of her husband. Leonce Pontellier is Edna's controlling partner, intent on molding her into his ideal wife. He despairs over Edna's abandonment of convention, the absence of proper adulation toward him and lack of motherly devotion. To Leonce, Edna is a possession, an expensive commodity "'You are burnt beyond recognition,' he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage." Mattie Silver in Frome and Robert Lebrun in Awakening play crucial roles in their respected stories. They are interlopers in unhappy marriages and possess all the qualities that Ethan and Edna long for. Mattie is the teasing, laughing cousin of Zeena. Her sparkling personality stands in sharp contrast against the Fromes'. She is associated with light and brings happiness into Ethan's bleak world. Robert Lebrun is the flirtatious Creole Edna falls in love with. His appeal is his careless sensuality and his careful attention of Edna and her whims. Although neither relationship is consummated, Mattie and Robert are symbols of life without constraint, of what could be if the chains of society were cast off.Symbolism is found in many every day occurrences and items within Ethan Frome and The Awakening. Edith Wharton's use of snow and dreariness underlies the repeated symbol of death and decay. Most of the story takes place in the depths of winter, when life drains from plants and trees, when water stops flowing, and when living creatures hibernate. Even people, to escape winter, bury...

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