Ethan Frome Essay, Research Paper
The novel Ethan Frome, written by Edith Wharton, is a wonderfully written novel that leaves the reader both depressed and awakened with the loneliness life often holds. Wharton, throughout the book, uses a lot of obvious imagery to allude to her own depressing life. Uses of sexual metaphors, symbols of being trapped and alone, and a generally gloomy setting make for a very meaningful read.
The novel takes place in a small farming town in New England and focuses on the Frome family. It starts with an outsider moving to the town and taking an interest in Ethan Frome s troubles. He wonders why no one in the town helps the poor family in their struggles. He winds up spending a night in the Frome house and eventually learns the reason of the town s apathy.
Ethan, a young man at the beginning of the story, who s mother has fallen ill, has a distant cousin come to help with the caring of the house. After his mother s death, the two marry for the sole reason of Ethan not wanting to be alone. The new wife soon falls ill, and Ethan once again feels alone due to the coldness of his spouse. Zeena, the wife, soon calls upon a cousin in need of a place to live to move in and help with the chores. Mattie, the cousin arrives, but her help in less then what is expected, despite the fact that Ethan has become infatuated with her. The pair slowly comes to realize their feelings towards each other, only to find that Zeena has hired a new girl to replace Mattie. Realizing that the only happiness in his life is about to leave, Ethan attempts to run away with Mattie, only to find that his financial situation has him trapped in his own personal hell and he submits to it. However, on the way to deliver Mattie to the train station, they take a break to sled together one last time where they profess their love for each other for the first time. They decide to take their lives together rather then to go on living without each other. The attempt fails, and leaves Mattie paralyzed and Ethan severely injured. In the end, Zeena is forced to care for Mattie, and Ethan is forced to live in misery for the rest of his life.
The symbolism in the book is easiest to see in the forms of the gravestones, the cat, and the pickle dish. The gravestones appear regularly to show Ethan that death is his only escape, and that he is bound to the farm forever. His fate is his fathers and his father s father, and it is an unending cycle. The cat seems to represent Zeena, and is ever watchful of the would-be lovers and seems to prevent them from being together several times in the novel. The pickle dish is Zeena s sex life, which it would seem, has never been used. It is carefully stored away, and when Ethan and Mattie come together, it is destroyed. Ethan attempts to repair it, but Zeena discovers it before it can be done. It is at this time that she decides Mattie should leave the house. All of these symbols seem very intentional and are easy to pick out.
In conclusion, this novel seems to be a man s worst fears realized. The fact that loneliness can be experienced even though you are not truly alone is a major theme in this book. Even though the story leaves the reader depressed, it does a good job at sending the intended message. The final line, that there isn t much difference between a Frome living and a Frome in the grave, shows that being truly lonely is as good as being dead.