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Juxtaposition Between Mattie And Zeena In Ethan Frome

1258 words - 5 pages

According to the Microsoft Word Encarta Dictionary, juxtaposition is to place two or more things, side by side, in order to emphasize contrasts and similarities between them. Edith Wharton deliberately places the characters of Mattie Silver and Zeena Frome together in the novel Ethan Frome to compare and contrast them. Although Mattie has only recently been exposed to Starkfield, Zeena's has lived in there for seven despondent years. Wharton's intent was to make the reader accustomed to seeing Zeena and Mattie in such harsh comparison, thus making the climatic ending extremely ironic. Throughout the novel, Wharton accentuates characteristic of Zeena's and Mattie's character such as their physical appearances which creates conflict in the interactions of the women with Ethan and consequently each other, until ironically the two characters finally fuse and become one.
Despite the common cliché, ?don?t judge a book by its cover,? you never get a second chance to make a first impression, most first impressions are derived from appearance. Edith Wharton harshly juxtaposes the appearances of Mattie and Zeena, to such an extreme that it almost seems bias. From the beginning of the novel, Zeena is depicted as an old and ?repugnant? (46) housewife. Substantial background information is not given, nor causes for her worn out and ?bloodless? (53) demeanor. ?Though she was but seven years her husband?s senior, she was already an old woman.? (53) In harsh comparison, Mattie is portrayed as a youthful, vivacious woman, yet with natural beauty. This drastic juxtaposition is black and white, with no grey areas, just the strong Mattie and the feeble Zeena. However, the colors used to describe Mattie and Zeena are not black and white, they each are associated with their own color. Zeena gives off a neutral color aura, such as brown or grey. ?Zeena herself had faded into an insubstantial shade.? (36) She gives off a ?grayish tinge? (34) and her best and favorite dress is brown. Zeena was given these colors because these colors are boring and not appealing to the eye, identical to Zeena. On the contrary, Mattie?s color is bright red. Whether it?s a ?crimson ribbon? (64) in her hair or a ?cherry-colored scarf,? (29) Mattie is associated with the color red, symbolizing her vibrant nature and liveliness. Wharton omits the cause of the women?s appearance. While Wharton deems the background information is unnecessary, it is unjust to think Zeena was born so frail and depleted. Even though it is known that the root of her dreadful appearance comes from seven miserable years in a loveless marriage deprived of emotional connection, people fail to recognize that Mattie?s strength and youth will also slowly dwindle as she continues to live in Starkfield. Wharton drastically juxtaposes Zeena and Mattie so that the reader feels sympathy for Ethan being bonded to Zeena, while a much prettier and healthier Mattie is present. While readers would appreciate these background...

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