Characterization-Ethan Frome Essay, Research Paper
Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome is a novel based on a man named Ethan Frome who lives a life of unhappiness because of his marriage with his wife. This novel takes place in Starkfield, Massachusetts during the winter. Ethan Frome is a man of many virtuous qualities and numerous defects. Ethan pursues a life of euphoria and a future of an well-educated man. His intentions for himself are good, but because of Ethan not living to his potential or to what he desires, his life is one big catastrophe. He marries the woman who nurses his mother before her death, but she keeps him from realizing his potential. Because of him not pursuing certain things, Ethan lives a life that is miserable and not what he expects. Ethan Frome shows through the characterization of Ethan Frome that one s character defects can cause numerous consequences.
As his mother is close to death, his cousin Zeena takes care of his mother. To Ethan at first, Zeena s presence makes things seem more optimistic and easier for him to deal with. After the mortal silence of his long imprisonment Zeena s volubility was music in his ears. He felt that he might have gone like his mother if the sound of a new voice had not come to steady him (69, 70). Not realizing that Zeena has control over him, after his mother s death he marries Zeena. He marries her not for true happiness but only because he does not like the thought of himself being left alone. After the funeral, when he saw her preparing to go away, he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on the farm; and before he knew what he was doing he had asked her to stay there with him (70). Zeena controls Ethan from the get go. She tells him where she wants to live, but it seems that no town is good enough for her. She chose to look down on Starkfield, but she could not have lived in a place which looked down on her (71). Although Ethan wants to live in a city, he lives in Starkfield because Zeena won t have it any other way.
Many times Ethan wants to be able to be free of Zeena s control, but he is too passive to break loose. Not only does he not live where he wishes, but when true happiness comes into his life Ethan doesn t take the chance to be blissful. He wants to be with Mattie, Zeena s younger, energetic cousin who comes to the Frome house to help out. At one point, Ethan gets the courage to write a letter to Zeena telling her that he wants to leave her. After he thinks that the inexorable facts closed in on him There was no way out none He as a prisoner for life his lack of bravery fails him from giving the letter to Zeena (134). Because Ethan is used to being controlled by his wife, he doesn t have the audacity to take action to go against her and to do what he really desires to do; therefore, his soul is inflated with melancholy.
Not only is Ethan not courageous, but he lives in his own world of silence. This silence is almost like a disease in the Frome house. First it starts with his mother and then it goes onto him and then Zeena catches this disease . The total lack of communication between the “silent” couple is a significant factor in Ethan’s miserable marriage. While Zeena complains about everything, Ethan takes in all the misery and decides not to give his opinion or speak his mind. Ethan keeps silent in his dealings with his wife, to check a tendency to impatient retort he had first formed the habit of not answering her, and finally of thinking of other things while she talked (72). When Zeena argues that Mattie is to leave because she hired another girl, Ethan at first tries to tell Zeena that he thinks that Mattie should be able to stay. He fails to stand up for Mattie and for what he truly feels, and yet again he is silent. He meant to humble himself, to argue that Mattie s keep didn t cost much but Zeena s words revealed the peril of such pleadings. Basically the silence breaks down the marriage even more than the domination that Zeena has over Ethan.
Ethan many times hopes of a new, more exciting life that will fulfill his need for euphoria. His feelings for Mattie are tremendously overwhelming for him. To Ethan, Mattie is radiant and energetic. He sees possibilities in her beyond his trite life in Starkfield, something truly worth standing up for. Her energy and warmth excite him and allow him to escape from his lonely, monotonous life. The night that Zeena is away in another town seeing a doctor, Ethan and Mattie spend the night together as if they are a married couple. Although he constantly thinks about being with Mattie the return to reality was as painful as the return to consciousness after taking an anaesthetic (95). She awakens hope in Frome of a different life, yet he knows that the chance of him actually living this different life is slim to none.
The hope of a new, fulfilling life causes Ethan to write the letter to Zeena, think about leaving Zeena, to defy his wife by falling in love with Mattie, confusion of what to do, and to do things that he wouldn t normally do. Ethan does not know how to deal with his feelings for Mattie or the stress that is caused from his dream to be with her. While Mattie is sewing, his emotions flow like a wild river because he longs to show his affection for Mattie by kissing her or holding her lovers do. Without knowing what he did he stooped his head and kissed the bit of stuff in his hold (96). Instead of Ethan kissing Mattie, his unfulfilled hope provokes his confusion and he kisses the piece of sewing that Mattie works on.
Just before Mattie has to leave for her train, Ethan and Mattie decide to go sledding to spend some time together happily. Ethan doesn t want Mattie to leave because he loves her, and love has
never come into his love before Mattie did. If Mattie is to leave then so does his hope for his new life. The thoughts of not being with Mattie make him feel that it might be like being dead feels the same no feeling at all. They have been in their coffins underground. He said to himself: Perhaps it ll fell like this and then again: After this I sha n t feel anything (167). Then they decide that they are to kill themselves by colliding into an elm tree with the sled. The big tree loomed bigger and closer, and as they bore down on it he thought: It s waiting for us: it seems to know (170). This decision is produced from not only Ethan s unfulfilled hope and longing but from Mattie s hopes and longings. The effect of this decision is not what they plan. Mattie and Ethan want to die holding onto each other because they cannot accomplish their hope of being together. The crash causes them a lifetime full of misery and of being crippled under the care of Zeena.
Ethan s lack of courage under the control of his wife, his silence that stops him from speaking his mind of how he truly feels, and his longing to achieve his hopes create a number of consequences that make his life one big calamity. The hurdles of his life make it difficult and almost impossible for Ethan to be truly blissful. He never seems to overcome his faults, and this is very tragic. Ethan never gets a chance to live his dream causing Ethan s spirit to be forever empty and unfulfilled.