Ethan Frome

Word Count: 893

Ethan Frome is a story of ill-fated love, set during the winter
in the rural New England town of Starkfield. Ethan is a
farmer who is married to a sickly woman named Zeena. The
two live in trapped, unspoken resentment on Ethan\'s isolated
and failing farm. Ethan has been caring for his wife for six
years now. Due to Zeena\'s numerous complications they
employ her cousin to help in the house, the animated Mattie
Silver. With Mattie\'s youthful presence in the house, Ethan is
awoken of the bitterness of his youth\'s lost opportunities,
and a dissatisfaction with his life and empty marriage. Ethan
and Mattie in turn, fall in love. However, they never follow
their love due to Ethan\'s morals and the respect he has for
his marriage to Zeena. Ethan eagerly awaits the nights when
he is able to walk Mattie home from the town dances. He
cherishes the ground she walks on. After a visit to the
doctor, Zeena is told that she needs more sufficient hired
help. Thus, she decides to send her incompetent cousin
away and hire a new one. Ethan and Mattie are desperate to
stay together. However, Ethan\'s lack of financial means and
Zeena\'s health are factors that will never allow him to leave
Starkfield. Unable to find any solutions to this problem,
Ethan and Mattie decide to commit suicide by sledding into
a tree. They figure it is the only way they can be together.
The attempt fails, and the two are left paralyzed. Now
Ethan\'s wife must care for the two for the rest of their lives.
There were many themes found in Ethan Frome, but the
greatest of them all is loneliness and isolation. In college
Ethan acquired the nickname "Old Stiff" because he rarely
went out with the boys. Once he returned to the farm to care
for his parents, he couldn\'t go out with them even if he
wanted to. Whatever he\'s done has kept him apart from
others: tending to the farm and mill, nursing his sick mother
and caring for Zeena. Ethan\'s isolation is intensified, because
he is often tongue-tied. He would like to make contact with
others but can\'t. For example, when he wants to impress
Mattie with beautiful words of love, he mutters, "Come
along." In their own ways, Zeena and Mattie are solitary
figures, too. For years, Zeena rarely leaves the house. She\'s
consumed by her illness. Mattie, on the other hand, seeks
refuge from loneliness at the Fromes\' farm. A year later she
chooses to die rather than return to a world of solitude.
Edith Wharton uses characters such as Mattie, to express
the theme of loneliness and isolation. Mattie Silver is unlike
any of the other characters in Ethan Frome. The town of
Starkfield is very colorless and dull. When Mattie enters she
is wearing bright clothing and ribbons tied in her hair. From
her first appearance, the reader becomes aware that Mattie
is very different from Ethan\'s wife. Of all the characters in
this novel, Mattie is the most tragic. She was so energetic
and full of life that she wanted to free Ethan from this terrible
society he lived in. She suggested suicide as a means of
escape for the two of them. When the attempt failed, she
became paralyzed. She is now stuck in the cold, colorless,
world of Starkfield. The setting of Ethan Frome, also
expresses the isolation. Around the turn of the century, in
Ethan Frome\'s time, the town of Starkfield was a cold and
lifeless place. Life is dreary and cheerless in Starkfield.
People stay indoors and keep to themselves. Weeks pass
between visits with friends or neighbors. Wharton calls
Starkfield a small farming community, and the town does live
up to it\'s name. It\'s desolate and it\'s people are poor. Ethan
can barely scrape a living off the land. The town Starkfield
afflicts Ethan and helps to shape his destiny. Like the town,
he is sullen and run-down. Starkfield sits alone in its valley,
isolated from the world around it. Ethan is also isolated. He
left the lonely valley to go to college, but since returing he
has gone scarcely more than few miles from his remote farm.
Physically, and therefore, emotionally, he is trapped by his
wife, his farm, and his poverty. Ethan is in some ways, a
piece of the scenery, or as the narrator says, "a part of the
mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of frozen woe."
He lacks the strength to shake himself loose before it\'s too
late. The author is able to clearly portray the themes of
isolation and loneliness through the characters and the
setting. In