Edith Wharton+Kate Chopin Essay, Research Paper
American Lit. II
Paper 2 2-17-2K
The main characters depicted in both Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening undergo a personal struggle in their attempt to deal with the universal emotion of love. Ethan Frome and Edna Pontellier each are married, but in love with another person. During the time in which the stories take place it is socially unacceptable for them to divorce or have an affair; and both characters are aware of the views of society.
Ethan and Edna are in situations that do not please them, and have an inner need or desire to be with someone else. Ethan Frome falls in love with his young servant, who is also his wife’s cousin. Edna Pontellier is infatuated with a man she met while vacationing, Robert Lebrun. Because of marriage they are unable to openly pursue the objects of their affection. The desire of their hearts leads them both to secretly maintain relationships outside their marriage, and ultimately causes their demise.
Of the two, Edna is more accepting of her amorous feelings and leaves her husband, moving out of his house. Although she was fond of her husband in the beginning of their marriage, she felt “unaccountable satisfaction that no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection.” She also shows little regard for her children, for “she would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them.” She does not feel any sense of duty or responsibility to her family, and is not even faithful to her love for Robert Lebrun because she has a sexual relationship with Alcee Arobin. Edna also shuns the society that looks upon her actions disapprovingly, refusing to entertain callers.
Edna immerses herself in dreaming of Robert; “the thought of him was like an obsession…his existence dominated her thought.” Her closest companion, Mademoiselle Reisz, encourages and assists her in her affair with Lebrun. The pianist strengthens Edna’s feelings of love towards Robert by telling Edna of his love for her, increasing her resolve and determination to be with him. Eventually, when Robert refuses a relationship with her and leaves, Edna is so distraught that she commits suicide by drowning herself at the very place that Robert taught her to swim.
Ethan Frome is afflicted with the same type of feelings as Edna, but he is in a different situation, mainly financial. Frome contemplates running away and starting a new life with his lover, Mattie Silver, but lacks the monetary funds necessary to purchase train tickets. He also feels a sense of responsibility to his wife, and doesn’t want to leave her destitute. His wife would not be able to manage their farm by herself; and even though Frome feels no love for his wife, he realizes that she “could never carry such a burden alone.” Ethan’s infatuation with Mattie is very strong, and he feels jealousy when he sees her with Denis Eady. He too becomes obsessed with his extra-marital relationship, “All his life was lived in the sight and sound of Mattie Silver.” Ethan has no help in his quest to win the heart of Mattie; he cannot even get an advance payment from the sawmill owner to finance an escape with her. He refuses to lie in order to get the money that would enable him to get away, because he would then be deceiving the people or the society that pitied him and his situation with his wife. When Mattie is finally forced to leave by Frome’s wife Zeena, Mattie and Ethan are so disheartened that they attempt to commit suicide by sledding themselves into a tree.
Because of her financial independence and absence of regard for her husband, Edna was more successful in her affair. Ethan’s lack of money and his sense of responsibility to care for his wife hindered him. Each was cursed with manipulative spouses, but only Edna stood up for herself and disobeyed her husband. Ethan was forced against his will to send Mattie away by his sick wife. Although their romantic affairs were secretive, Ethan and Edna each had a relationship with their lover that was visible to their husband or wife. Both were committed to heeding the voice of their heart, but Edna’s heart had a multiple personality. Obsession and infatuation plagued both Ethan and Edna, who felt the power of love so strongly that they were unwilling to live without it.