The Witch Wins In Ethan Frome By Edith Wharton

1352 words - 5 pages

In the small, desolate town of Starkfield, Massachusetts, Ethan Frome lives a life of poverty. Not only does he live hopelessly, but “he was a prisoner for life” to the economy (Ammons 2). A young engineer from outside of town narrates the beginning of the story. He develops a curiosity towards Ethan Frome and the smash-up that he hears about in bits and pieces. Later, due to a terrible winter storm that caused the snow itself to seem like “a part of the thickening darkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer” (Wharton 20), the narrator is forced to stay the night at Frome’s. As he enters the unfamiliar house, the story flashes back twenty-four years to Ethan Frome’s young life. Living out his life with Zenobia Frome, his hypochondriac of a wife whom he does not love, Ethan has nowhere to turn for a glance at happiness. But when Zenobia’s, or Zeena’s, young cousin, Mattie Silver, comes to care for her, Ethan falls in love with the young aid. Mattie is Ethan’s sole light in life and “she is in contrast to everything in Starkfield; her feelings bubble near the surface” (Bernard 2). All through the novella, the two young lovers hide their feelings towards each other. When they finally let out their true emotions to each other in the end, the consequence is an unforeseen one. Throughout Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton portrays a twisted fairy tale similar to the story of Snow White with the traditional characters, but without a happy ending to show that in a bleak and stark reality, the beautiful and enchanting maiden could become the witch.
Ethan Frome contains three main characters that parallel those of traditional fairy tales. Firstly, Zeena represents the witch, or evil stepmother. Everything about her resembles a witch, from “her puckered throat and the projecting wrist of the hand that clutched the quilt” to “the deepened fantastically the hollows and prominences of her high-boned face under its ring of crimping pins” (Wharton 47). Like a stepmother, she takes in Mattie, who is a younger relative, after her parents pass away. Also, just like the evil stepmother in Snow White, she tries hard to keep the girl from flourishing. Zeena never encourages Mattie and is constantly frowning upon her by giving her complaints similar to “‘that pie of your always sets a mite heavy, Matt’” (Wharton 108). Furthermore, Zeena’s cat, like in many fairy tales, serves as her external personality. When Zeena is away, leaving Ethan and Mattie home alone, the cat “jumped up into Zeena’s chair, rolled itself into a ball, and lay watching them with narrow eyes” as the two make awkward motions towards one another (Wharton 78). The cat sits in Zeena’s chair and looks intently at them just as if it were Zeena herself. In addition to the witch, Ethan Frome also illustrates a naïve princess-like maiden with the character Mattie. Just like Snow White, Mattie has beautiful dark hair, rosy red cheeks, and stunningly pale skin. Her hair is “soft yet...

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