Dreary Town of Starkfeild
1. “Ethan Frome, drove in silence, the reins loosely held in his left hand, his brown seamed profile under the helmet like peak of the cap, received against the banks of snow like the bronze image of a hero.” Was this a misinterpretation on the part of the narrator, or did the author also see Ethan in this way? Is Ethan Frome a tragic hero, as defined in literature? Why or why not? If he is, would you consider passivity to be his hamartia tragic flaw? Does Ethan’s passivity contribute to his eventual downfall? If he is not a tragic hero, why would you deny him that distinction?
There is a thin line when it comes to giving the author’s perspective and the narrator. However, we can say that narrator, being an engineer, can make his suppositions or judgment on an analytical or intuitive basis. That may make him to depict Frome as heroic and almost mythical. Take for example this line “It was that night that I found the clue to Ethan Frome and began to put together this vision of his story.” (Wharton, 1911). This is a scene where Ethan has taken the narrator to spend a night at his place thus, giving him a lee-way to his life. By mere fact that the narrator is talking about the vision is enough suggestion that he is not talking from a point of factual conviction. This means that the story may not be totally objective and totally documented making it to have the imprint of the narrators own interpretation.
The author sees Ethan in a different perspective from the narrator’s perspective. This is because from the onset of the story, she tells of how Ethan attempts to pursue engineering course and left half-way due to the demise of his father and the ailing mother. It is through the author’s revelation that we hear of how this man Ethan attempts to elope with his wife’s cousin and attempts a suicidal mission that does not come to fulfillment (Wharton, 1911). It is this suicidal attempt that leaves him crippled for life. If looked critically, these should not be tales that tell of a hero but one that has failed in life. The attributes discussed also qualifies Ethan Frome to be a tragic hero because of the many failures he has faced. Passivity contributes to his harmartia tragic flaw as the author presents him as cold and withdrawn. His passivity contributes to his down fall. His fate is crippled for life.
“With the sudden perception of the point to which his madness has carried him, the madness fell and he saw his wife before him as it was. He was a poor man, the husband of a sickly woman, who his desertion would leave alone and destitute; and even if he had had the heart to desert her he could have done so only by deceiving two kindly people who had pitied him” The perception here is an accurate one because when Ethan decides to elope with Mattie and leaves Zeena behind, he is stranded not because he fears to divulge the information of leaving to his wife, but because of financial constraints. Apart from being afraid of what will befall Zeena when he leaves, he has no means of getting even a portion of money needed to go out West where they have decided to go to. Also, Zeena cannot have the capacity to sale the farm, not because of the sickness but because of the low value of the farm. This makes Ethan fall asleep and leaves the letter that he has just started to write so as to inform Zeena on their departure halfway.
Edith Wharton is not attempting to tear apart the romantic fictions people as so often used to justify sexual immorality, but she is trying to bring out the importance of communication in a family even in the midst of turmoil. My point of argument is that if Ethan could have been an out going man the farmhouse could not have been in isolation. This means he could have had friend to share his predicaments and get solutions to some of their problems in the farmhouse rather than running away from reality.
Two of the leading symbols found in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome are the New England weather and farm house. The significance of the two stylistic devices to both the plot and the themes of the story are as discussed. Three important themes in the story include love, sickness, and family. The wintry weather of New England is cold and snowy; this is what the narrator opines has shaped what he describes as silent, sulky nature of Ethan Frome. He literally implies that the cold winter has shaped Frome’s character. The cold nature of New England also causes the bonds of love to be developed. We see that Ethan Frome and Mattie warm up to each other for love. This is because Ethan’s wife who has been ailing for six year cannot be at proper position to provide the warmth that comes with being intimate during such cold moments. On the other hand, Mattie who is constantly in the house is still single and would offer a ready soul or shoulder to lean on to Ethan in order to get this much needed warmth that comes from love.
The farm house is significant in this story as it provides the basis on which the stage is set. It provides a family set-up where we meet, Ethan himself, the wife Zeena, their handmaid come Zeena’s cousin Mattie, and the farm worker (Wharton, 1911). It is this farm-house where the narrator of the story is housed by the family of Ethan. It is this farm house that the narrator comes to learn of the nature of the family that Ethan raises. He comes to learn of Zeena’s sickness and the status of the farm. It is this farm that gives us the social status of the Ethans. Narrator describes the farmhouse as poverty-stricken lonely place. It is within this farmhouse that has been home to ailing Zeena for the past six years and later for the paralyzed Mattie. It is thus a farmhouse that is synonymous with sickness.
Zeena is central to the theme family, sickness and love as we want to find out in the following paragraphs:
The woman I choose to discuss in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome piece is Zeena. Zeena’s full-orbed personalities are presented in two scenarios. One scenario as Ethan’s wife ailing and helpless while another scenario as Frome’s wife who is full of life and helpful; Ethan and Frome being one person only that the two different names are split to give the significance of time differences within which the scenarios present themselves. 24 years before the author presents to us Frome, Zeena is depicted as one who lives on the mercies of her cousin Mattie who takes care of her house chores and a husband – Ethan – whose loves seems to dissipate towards Mattie. She is ailing and spends most of the time by herself in the bedroom. In her ailing state, she even travels alone to sick medical attention in the next town – Bettsbridge (Wharton, 1911). This even gives her husband a joy as he realizes that he at last gets a chance to be with Mattie alone together and share their lovely time. Her vulnerability is even laid bear when she finds her husband kissing her cousin – Mattie – passionately but does not pick a fight with the two; she only suggests that she has arranged for Mattie replacement. This does not seem to bother her much as she proceeds to the dinning table and share with them the dinner that Mattie has prepared.
Zeena is a real person and cannot be depicted as extreme character as may be perceived by the protagonist. This point can be explained using the following arguments:
First, she finds her husband in a compromising situation, passionately kissing her cousin who should know better than to respect their marriage, but she does not pick a quarrel with neither the husband nor the cousin. This shows maturity in the midst of disappointment. Secondly, Zeena knows how to control her anger. After realizing that her favourite pickle-dish is broken she only decides to replace Mattie but does not through tantrums. Lastly, even after Mattie and Ethan attempt suicide “rather than face parting from one another” Zeena takes charge of being their care-taker in their crippled stats. This last point also serves as a hint that the author gives to depict Zeena as not being a witch as protagonist perceived. “Rather than face parting from one another” would mean that Frome has decided to run from reality of life by leaving his ailing wife behind thereby opting to take away his life in the name of loving another woman who is his wife’s cousin. It is a fact that shows Frome’s vulnerability thus, earning him the tag of being a tragic hero.
Wharton, E. Ethan Frome. Courier Corporation. (1911). Print.