Ethan Frome: Fantasy Is An Escape From Winter Essay, Research Paper
Ethan Frome: Fantasy is an Escape From Winter
Ethan Frome, the rubric character of Edith Wharton & # 8217 ; s tragic novel, lives
in his ain universe of silence, where he replaces his scarceness of words with
images and phantasies. There is striking symbolism in the imagination,
preponderantly that of winter which connotes frigidness, withdrawal, desolation
Twenty-eight twelvemonth old Ethan feels trapped in his hometown of Starkfield,
Massachusetts. He marries 34 twelvemonth old Zeena after the decease of his
female parent, & # 8220 ; in an unsuccessful effort to get away the silence, isolation, and
solitariness of life & # 8221 ; ( Lawson 71 ) .
Several old ages after their matrimony, cousin Mattie Silver is asked to alleviate
Zeena, a gaunt and sickly hypochondriac, of her family responsibilities. Ethan finds
himself falling in love with Mattie, drawn to her vernal energy, as, & # 8220 ; The
pure air, and the long summer hours in the unfastened, gave life and snap to
Mattie & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 60 ) .
Ethan is attracted to Mattie because she is the antithesis of Zeena.
& # 8220 ; While Mattie is immature, happy, healthy, and beautiful like the summer, Zeena is
seven old ages older than Ethan, bitter, ugly and sickly cold like the winter & # 8221 ;
( Lewis 310 ) . Zeena & # 8217 ; s strong, ruling personality emasculates Ethan, while
Mattie & # 8217 ; s feminine, sparkling young person makes Ethan experience like a & # 8220 ; existent man. & # 8221 ;
Contrary to his characteristic passivity, he defies Zeena in Mattie & # 8217 ; s defense mechanism,
& # 8220 ; You can & # 8217 ; t travel, Matt! I won & # 8217 ; t allow you! She & # 8217 ; s [ Zeena ‘s ] ever had her manner, but
I mean to hold mine now – & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 123 ) . To Ethan, Mattie is beaming and
energetic. He sees possibilities in her beyond his banal life in Starkfield,
something genuinely deserving standing up for. Her energy and warmth excite him and
let him to get away from his lonely, humdrum life.
While Zeena is sing an out of town physician, Ethan and Mattie, entirely
in the house, intensely experience her eerie presence. The heat of their eventide
together is brought to an disconnected terminal by the inadvertent breakage of Zeena & # 8217 ; s
prized dish. Zeena & # 8217 ; s rage at the breakage of an impractical pickle dish
exemplifies the fury she must experience about her useless life. & # 8220 ; That the pickle
dish has ne’er been used makes it a strong symbol of Zeena herself, who prefers
non to take portion in life & # 8221 ; ( Lawson 68-69 ) . Ethan & # 8217 ; s response to Zeena & # 8217 ; s fury was
Merely as Ethan lives in silence, so excessively does his married woman. The entire deficiency
of communicating between the & # 8220 ; soundless & # 8221 ; twosome is a important factor in Ethan & # 8217 ; s
suffering matrimony. Ethan kept silent in his traffics with his married woman, & # 8220 ; to look into
a inclination to impatient rejoinder he had foremost formed the wont of non replying
her, and eventually thought of other things while she talked & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 72 ) .
Zeena is the cold and ugly world from which Ethan tries to get away in
his dreams of a life with Mattie. He is happy merely when conceive ofing his life
with Mattie. The dark that they are entirely, he pretends that they are married.
Frequently when they are together, he fantasizes that Zeena is dead and that he and
Mattie live together in blissful devotedness. Ethan deludes himself because, as a
captive of circumstance, his lone flight is semblance. His felicity in the
company of Mattie is the merchandise of a self-deceit necessitated by his
unhappy matrimony to Zeena, the obstruction to a life long relationship with Mattie.
After the dark of the broken dish, Ethan and Mattie eventually joint
their feelings for each other, and are forced to confront the painful world that
their phantasies can non come true:
The return to world was every bit painful as the return to
consciousness after taking an anesthetic. His organic structure and encephalon
ached with indefinable fatigue, and he could non believe of
nil to state or make that should collar the huffy flight of the
minutes ( Wharton 95 ) .
& # 8220 ; Zeena herself, from an oppressive world, had faded into an
unsubstantial shadiness & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 39 ) . Her hypochondria is her mercantile establishment, merely as
Ethan & # 8217 ; s universe of phantasy is his. & # 8220 ; It [ her compulsion with her wellness ] is
adventuresome in contrast to her humdrum matrimony & # 8221 ; ( McDowell 66 ) . Sickly
Zeena is able to pull strings her hubby utilizing her frail wellness to warrant her
acrimonious personality. & # 8220 ; When she [ Zeena ] spoke it was merely to kick & # 8221 ; ( Wharton
72 ) .
Ethan and Mattie effort to continue their felicity and remain
together the lone manner they can, in decease. At this point, Mattie unwittingly
becomes the cause of Ethan & # 8217 ; s tragic agony.
The aborted self-destruction effort leads to their tragic destiny, populating a life of
physical agony, so severely injured that former shut-in, Zeena is forced to
attention for them.
& # 8220 ; If she & # 8217 ; d [ Mattie ‘d ] hour angle & # 8217 ; died, Ethan might ha & # 8217 ; lived & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 181 ) .
It is dreadfully dry that, as a consequence of the accident, Mattie, the beginning of
Ethan & # 8217 ; s earlier joy, is now an extra test in an already low life.
Where Ethan was one time uplifted by virtuousness of Mattie & # 8217 ; s being, he is now burdened
by her really presence. Tragically, clip merely accentuated his agony alternatively
of relieving it. After enduring so long with the sallow Zeena, Ethan now
has to be with the horribly deformed remains of a one time beautiful, sensitive,
and loving miss. Once once more give uping himself to the forces of isolation,
silence, darkness, cold, and & # 8220 ; death-in-life & # 8221 ; ( McDowell 68 ) .
The scene for Ethan Frome is winter. Edith Wharton, the writer,
chose winter as a subject because it symbolizes the emotional and physical
isolation, cold, darkness, and decease that surround Ethan. Similarly, the name
of the town Starkfield is symbolic of Ethan & # 8217 ; s waterless life. & # 8220 ; Stark denotes the
rough winters doing waste, exanimate landscape, with lifeless and devastated
people & # 8221 ; ( Howe 113 ) . The storyteller notes this connexion ; & # 8220 ; During the early
portion of my stay I had been struck by the clime and the unresponsiveness of the
community & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 8 ) .
& # 8220 ; Wharton emphasizes the asperity of life in a rough land with its rocky
psyche, its cold winters, and its bleak, abandon beauty & # 8221 ; ( McDowell 65 ) . Wharton
The snow had ceased, and a flash of watery sunshine exposed
the house on the incline above us in all its mournful ugliness.
The black ghost of a deciduous creeper flapped from the
porch, and the thin wooden walls, under their worn coats of
pigment, seemed to shudder in the air current that had risen with the
ceasing of the snow ( 20 ) .
The downtrodden image painted in this citation describes the
environment, every bit good as depicting Ethan. Just as his house was one time new and
beautiful but is now torn by many rough winters in Starkfield, so to was Ethan.
The depredations of winter destroy both adult male & # 8217 ; s will to last and the edifices he
constructed to screen him from this environment. As the storyteller explains, & # 8220 ; I
had a sense that his [ Ethan ‘s ] solitariness was non simply the consequence of his
personal predicament, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it the profound
accumulated cold of many winters & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 15 ) .
The description of the conditions is besides used to bode events and
put the temper. Once Ethan and Mattie decide to take their lives, as if to
suggest that something will travel incorrect, the sky is described as, & # 8220 ; swollen with
clouds that announce a melt, hung every bit low as before a summer storm & # 8221 ; ( Wharton
167 ) . This is merely one of many times in the novel when the clime is used to
indicate premonition events.
The conditions imagination is used in character development and word picture.
After the accident, & # 8220 ; He [ Ethan ] seemed a portion of the deaf-and-dumb person melancholy landscape,
an embodiment of it & # 8217 ; s frozen suffering, with all that was warm and animate in him
fast edge below the surface & # 8221 ; ( Wharton 14 ) . When Mattie foremost arrives in
Starkfield, her presence is perceived as, & # 8220 ; & # 8230 ; a spot of hopeful immature life,
like the lighting of a fire on a cold fireplace & # 8221 ; ( 33 ) . In contrast to Mattie & # 8217 ; s
beaming heat, Zeena is described as wintery and unappealing:
She [ Zeena ] sat opposite the window, and the picket visible radiation
reflected from the Bankss of snow made her face expression more than
normally drawn and bloodless, sharpened the three analogue
folds between ear and cheek, and drew fretful lines from
her thin olfactory organ to the corners of her oral cavity ( 64 ) .
In position of his suffering life, the reader can good understand Ethan & # 8217 ; s
demand to get away into a fantasy universe of heat and love. The pervasiveness of
the winter imagination evokes in the reader a sense of the acrimonious purdah, silence,
devastation, and desperation finally felt by each of the three chief characters.
Their tragic lives are overshadowed by somberness and hopelessness, in much the same
manner that winter stunts the growing and verve of nature & # 8217 ; s creative activities.
Howe, Irving. Edith Wharton: A Collection of Critical Essays.
New York: Prentis Hall, 1962.
Lawson, Richard H. Edith Wharton. New York: Frederick Ungar
Publishing Co. , 1977.
Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton & # 8211 ; A Biography. New York: Harper & A ;
Row, Publishers, 1975.
McDowell, Margaret. Edith Wharton. Boston: Twayne Publishers,
Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. New York: Charles Scribener & # 8217 ; s Sons,