Imagery Of Ethan Frome Essay Research Paper

Imagery Of Ethan Frome Essay, Research Paper

Edith Wharton uses imagery in the novel Ethan Frome. Her

use of imagery enhances the theme and reading experience of the

novel. Her use of imagery vividly compares and contrasts Mattie

and Zeena, the two women in Ethan’s life.

Mattie Silver is Zeena’s cousin who comes to live with the

Fromes. Mattie is the equivalent of modern-day maid, because she

cooks and maintains the Frome household. Wharton describes

Mattie as being a lively and happy young woman, before her

suicide attempt that leaves her an invalid and a former shadow of

herself. Her name alone, Mattie Silver, symbolizes the

glistening and beauty of a piece of sterling silver. Mattie’s

beauty attracts Ethan to her. “…Zeena was to be away for a

night. He wondered if the girl were thinking of it too” (Wharton

47). Compared to Zeena, Mattie was the embodiment of life: she

was radiant and energetic. “The pure air, and the long summer

hours in the open, gave life and elasticity to Mattie” (Wharton

60). When Mattie first arrives in Starkfield, her presence is

perceived as, “… a bit of hopeful young life, like the lighting

of a fire on a cold hearth” (33).

However, Zeena, Ethan’s wife of seven years, she the exact

opposite of Mattie’s beauty and radiance. Death is personified

in the form of Zeena Frome, a hypochondriac who speaks only to

complain. “Zeena has always been what Starkfield called

’sickly’” (Wharton 25). Needless to say, Zeena’s appearance and

daily habits are very unattractive, when compared to Mattie.

“Then he [Ethan] had a distinct sight of his wife lying in their

bedroom asleep, her mouth slightly open, her false teeth in a

tumbler by the bed” (Wharton 37). “The room was almost dark, but

in the obscurity he saw her sitting by a window, and knew by the

rigidity of the outline projected against the pane that she had

not taken off her traveling dress” (Wharton 77). This quote

conjures up an image of a skeleton. “The rigidity of the

outline” symbolizes the rigid property of a skeleton sitting next

to a window, illuminated only by the moonlight which reflects off

of the rigid bones, bones that are visible after a human body has

died and completely decomposed. Zeena is described as wintry and

unappealing: “She [Zeena] sat opposite the window, and the pale

light reflected from the banks of snow made her face look more

than usually drawn and bloodless, sharpened the three parallel

creases between ear and cheek, and drew querulous lines from her

thin nose to the corners of her mouth” (64). Again, an image of

skeleton is drawn in words by Wharton. The pervasiveness of the

winter imagery evokes in the reader a sense of the bitter

solitude, silence, desolation, and despair ultimately felt by

each of the three main characters.

Starkfield fits Zeena’s character and the novel perfectly.

Stark, itself, means dreary, grim or harsh. So, in essence,

Starkfield can actually be called a grim field, which is the

ideal hometown for an individual like Zeena, who was depicted as

cold and self-centered. Later in the book, this also becomes and

ideal place for Mattie and Ethan, after they survive their

suicide attempt which permanently cripples both of them, although

it affected Mattie more severely. Their injuries give Ethan and

Mattie the appearance of death, because both of them appear to

become cold and bitter.

The story of poor Ethan Frome, chained to his

tyrannically “invalid” wife, Zeena, on a miserable New

England Farm, unable to escape with his true love,

Mattie Silver, except in a bungled effort at double

suicide that leaves them both horribly crippled for

life, has long been an American classic. In its spare,

chilling re-creation of rural isolation, hardscrabble

poverty, and wintry landscape–forces that enclose and

doom the already pitiful lovers… (Kazin 131).

In summary, Edith Wharton’s use of imagery, especially the vivid

descriptions of Mattie and Zeena, enhance the overall impact made

on the reader’s mind. Her use of imagery was not limited to

Mattie and Zeena, as it was also used to describe Ethan, before

and after the suicide attempt, and what Starkfield, New England

was like.