Ethan Frome: A Prisoner of Essay
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Ethan becomes a caregiver, ironically, despite the weakness of his will, just like Mattie Silver, who ironically first joins the Frome household to care for Zeena becomes the physically weakest member of the household. Ethan's life is initially defined by the needs of his wife's body to the point where he becomes unnaturally submissive as a husband, just as the youthful Mattie unnaturally becomes the sickest member of the household before her time. Ethan becomes a captive of his body, and the bodies of the women around him, as he is lame and unable to die, yet despite his apparent age Ethan's physical frame is as strong as the morality of the town and religion that deems it sacrilege to say it would have been better had Mattie died. His accident was "More'n enough to kill most men. But the Fromes are tough. Ethan'll likely touch a hundred" (Wharton 5). Gow's prophesy functions as a kind of a curse, not a blessing for Ethan.
Ethan's life journey is similar to the progression of the seasons in Starkville itself, cold with a brief period of false warmth, with a brief "phase of crystal clearness followed by long stretches of sunless cold" (Wharton 8). Warmth is only a memory for Ethan, just like it is in the town that keeps Ethan's future frozen and imprisoned. When the first-person narrator tells him about an engineering job he had "in Florida, and of the contrast between the winter landscape about us and that in which I had found myself the year before...to my surprise Frome said suddenly: 'Yes: I was down there once, and for a good while afterward I could call up the sight of it
in winter. But now it's all snowed under'" (Wharton 13). The memory of warmth and love, in other words, is snowed under in Ethan's mind, just like the world around him and despite Ethan's ability to remember happiness for awhile, he cannot sustain it.
According to the conventional wisdom, most 'smart ones' get away, from Starkville, but it is not that Ethan is not unintelligent, but merely unimaginative -- he can only conceptualize Starkville or death, or leaving Mattie or death, with no real alternative, in extremes just as stark as the landscape. Although the literary critic Edwin Bjorkman wrote that Ethan Frome is effectively murdered by his town, spiritually and the book is "above all else a judgment on that system which fails to redeem such villages as Mrs. Wharton's Starkfield," Ethan bears some responsibility in refusing to rise above Starkfield, despite his natural gifts ("Personal or Social Tragedy: A Close Reading of Wharton's Ethan Frome," EdSiteMent, 2007).
Over the course of the narrative, as a result of his inaction, Ethan becomes more bound to Starkville, and his farm and his relationship with women remain barren: "Frome farm was always 'bout as bare's a milkpan when the cat's been round," says one of his neighbors and the same is true of the life of the man, partly as a result of tragedy, but also because of his failure to look at the world beyond the social conventions that hem him into the morality of Starkville (Wharton 12).
Personal or Social Tragedy: A Close Reading of Wharton's Ethan Frome." EdSiteMent.
March 1, 2007. January 30, 2009. http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=725#03
Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome.…
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