The Importance of Setting in Ethan Frome and Things Fall Apart

Ethan Frome and Things Fall Apart are found in two dramatically different settings, with each plot relying heavily on the setting of the novel to tell its story. The setting of a story is a broad term and can contain many layers. While each story may not rely on the same elements of the setting, they each pull from different areas in order to bring their messages to the audience. The historical time period, location, and season all factor into these two stories and make them what they are.

Ethan Frome used the winter season as a major symbol throughout the novel. Without the harshness of winter, Edith Wharton would not be able to tell the same tragic story. The narrator describes Ethan Frome as a very lonely man, which he explained “was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters” (Wharton 10). The stifling cold seems to emotionally repress not only the main character, but the whole town of Starkfield. Throughout the entire novel, readers do not get a glimpse into the warmer months, as winter seems to take control of their lives and acts as a force that holds them back. The bitterness of this cold could not be explained if the novel took place in any other setting. More specifically, the month of February has a significant impact on the novel. February is the month in which Ethan and Mattie’s sledding accident occurred, a tragic end to their love story (Wharton 94). February is typically the last brutal month of winter, meaning that spring is right around the corner. This symbolizes just how tragic their suicide was. They had lost all hope in the bitterness of winter, that they could not stick around to feel that sense of hope.

The city of Starkfield itself, while imaginary, was incredibly important in conveying the lack of hope in this story. It seems that Starkfield is a place where people cannot escape, no matter how badly they want to. This place feels oppressive, with the narrator saying Ethan “seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface” (Wharton 10). The people in Starkfield seemed to have taken everything that used to be bright and vibrant about them and shoved it away, with only bitterness and cold remaining. They seem to live in dullness all year. Although Starkfield is not a real place, it is very important to the setting as it sets the tone for the entire story. In contrast, Springfield is where Zeena gets her medicine, which illustrates how far from spring – a symbol for vibrance and hope – the Starkfield residents are. (Wharton 63). This helps readers understand the significant difference between the two towns, with one full of despair and the other full of hope. Most can never seem to escape Starkfield in order to lift themselves of their own self-made tragedies.

Things Fall Apart, on the other hand, relies on a more general time period to convey the importance of its story. The novel takes place in Nigeria around 1900, which was around the time of European colonization. The story of Okonkwo and the Igbo people could not be told at any other time due to how westernization had such a direct impact on their lives. The Christian missionaries are what causes much of the downfall for the Igbo people. As Okonkwo stated, “He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (Achebe 112). As a tragedy, Things Fall Apart could not have shown this steady downfall without the harsh realities of the Igbo culture being destroyed during this specific time period. Okonkwo met his tragic fate when his own son converted to Christianity, which broke him as a person as he saw not only his tribe, but his family torn apart because of the missionaries (Achebe 107). If it weren’t for this historical time period, his story wouldn’t be told. Achebe gave a voice to the Nigerian people who lost their way of life due to colonization. The physical setting is also incredibly important in Things Fall Apart. From the beginning, the novel emphasized how growing yams made an impact on Okonkwo’s life, which required a specific geographic location. The rain in their climate was thought of as incredibly important, “And so nature was not interfered with in the middle of the rainy season” (Achebe 54). It was etched into their culture that rain played an important role in their survival. The tribes base much of their rules and lifestyles around the Earth goddess, which is an important part of their culture. Much of what motivates them is in fear of the Earth goddess, which was a major factor in Okonkwo’s exile after he killed a clansman. While they may not completely understand why they needed to do certain things, “if the clan did not exact punishment for an offense against the great goddess, her wrath was loosed on all the land and now just on the offender” (Achebe 102). They were obviously very in tune with the nature around them and saw it as a very powerful force. While nature is found all around the world, I believe that the connection felt in their forests could not have happened in any other landscape.

It is evident that both Ethan Frome and Things Fall Apart would not be the same stories if they were told in different settings. Whether it be the season and town of Ethan Frome or the time period and location of Things Fall Apart, different elements of the setting in each novel play a critical role in telling the individual stories. While minor elements could have changed in each novel, neither story could have told their tragic tale if it weren’t for the big picture of each setting. Each author was very strategic and intentional about how they told their stories in order to convey the strong messages that they were trying to tell.

Unavoidable Manipulators

In order for a successful society and government, true emotions and feelings must be expressed at the essential times. Manipulation is constantly used worldwide in areas such as advertisements to movies. They act as unfair persuaders to make a certain decision or feel a certain way. However, without manipulation, to be able to convey certain serious points would therefore be impossible. In Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton emphasizes manipulation, through the main characters, as a key form of communication necessary to express true emotions and desires.

Ethan Frome, the protagonist, struggles with being able to convey his emotions on most subjects, especially Mattie. In order to find out what Mattie is thinking, he approaches the situation with guile and somewhat sinister intentions. After coming from the nighttime dance, he states “you’d have found me right off if you hadn’t gone back to have that last reel with Denis,’ he brought out awkwardly” (Wharton 23). Ethan is attempting to uncover Mattie’s true emotions by appealing to her feelings towards him. Although he is in love with her, he plays it off as innocent as possible, acting indifferent towards the situation, in an effort to draw out her inner sentiments towards him. Wharton emphasizes that without the ability to manipulate emotions would be much more secretive due to an inability for people to articulate inner desires to others. Although generally level-headed, Ethan is also a victim of manipulation. However, it is a result of his own doing and pessimistic thoughts. As he was walking through the graveyard, “we never got away – how should you?’ seemed to be written on every headstone” (Wharton 10). Ethan is so caught up in the negativity of Starkfield that he has convinced himself these gravestones are condemning him to stay with them until his death day. Although unrealistic, these gravestones provide insight into the true feelings of Ethan and how little he believes in his ability to escape this environment. In addition, Wharton conveys to the readers the harsh reality of self-manipulation and how latent emotions can emerge and greatly influence outlook and perceptions in various manifestations.

Another major manipulator comes from the wife of Ethan. Although Ethan is an expert manipulator, Zeena is the embodiment of manipulation. She constantly lives her life-manipulating people into getting the reactions and results that benefit her most. As she was talking to Ethan she says, “The doctor says it’ll be my death if I go on slaving the way I’ve had to. He doesn’t understand how I’ve stood it as long as I have.” (Wharton 75) Zeena is constantly attempting to use her health as a tool to shape Ethan’s actions. Although she does minimal work, she talks as if she carries most of the workload when in fact Ethan does all the work. Wharton shows how one can be easily manipulated into feeling guilty by stating a fact, even though the logic behind it isn’t completely truthful. Zeena also uses her manipulation to convey her opinions in an indirect yet effective way. Although she generally quiet, Zeena is quite observant of her surroundings and things occurring. While Ethan was getting ready she says, “I guess you’re always late, now you shave every morning” (Wharton 26). In order to convey the necessary emotions to Ethan, Zeena manipulates him by hinting at the fact that even though he is late, he still has time to shave. Wharton uses this to show the effect of a well-phrased sentence on the emotions of the receiver. Although not direct, these manipulations are constantly used to invoke various feelings. Manipulation can also come from the unlikeliest of people. One of the more innocent characters, Mattie, is also one of the most manipulative characters. She mainly does the duties assigned to her and with the exception of Ethan, sticks mostly to herself. When they were sledding, she “put her lips close against his ear to say: ‘Right into the big elm. You said you could. So ‘t we’d never have to leave each other any more.” (Wharton 110). There is a clear and powerful use of manipulation by Mattie to Ethan to appeal to his deepest emotions of love in order to convince him to stay true to their plan. This exchange of words emphasizes the extreme power that manipulation has on decision-making. Wharton constantly shows the importance of manipulation in the daily lives of people, ending with skewed conclusions.

Mattie is also extremely sly when she is manipulating other characters. She uses the concept of indirect interaction to create the same effect. Mattie left for Ethan “a scrap of paper torn from the back of a seedsman’s catalogue, on which three words were written: “Don’t trouble, Ethan.” (Wharton 86). This note shows the depths of manipulation expressed by Mattie. She is manipulating Ethan into doing more than he planned to by elevating their level of communication and emotions, as this was the first time she had ever written him a note. This shows how simpler messages can have astounding effects on whoever is receiving it. Wharton especially shows how people can even be manipulated through external locations instead of just from direct speech. Throughout, Wharton stresses the key value on manipulation on the environment to be able to reveal the true emotions and desires. Although seemingly mediocre, manipulation is necessary to invoke certain feelings about any particular topic. However, manipulation can occur in various forms such as movies and advertisements. These constant manipulations of our mind and emotions are key for the shaping of the society. Without them, society would not be the same as it is today but instead a wasteland of inexpressible emotions and desires.

A Natural[Ethan]istic Story

Although by definition, a classic tragedy takes place when a character’s downfall is the direct consequence of a personality flaw, Edith Wharton’s novella Ethan Frome rejects this concept. As a story written by an author schooled in naturalistic and deterministic philosophies, the tragic life of Ethan Frome is an embodiment of both theories. While Wharton tells the story of Ethan’s desperate hopes and attempts to leave his dreary life, she employs symbolism and foreshadowing to convince the reader that his doomed fate was sealed from the start.

The symbols of Zeena’s cat and the scarlet pickle dish are used throughout the story to give insight to the fact that Ethan’s future has been predetermined. Throughout the story, Zeena’s cat is used to symbolize Zeena herself. This is especially prevalent when Zeena goes away, and Ethan is left alone with Mattie. While eating dinner with Mattie on the night of Zeena’s departure, Ethan observes that “The cat- who had been a troubled observer of these unusual movements- jumped into Zeena’s chair…and lay watching them with narrow eyes”(37). Ethan believes that the time with Zeena away is his chance to connect with Mattie. But the cat, symbolizing Zeena’s ever-watching eyes, disrupts their dinner by jumping up and watching them closely. This action is Wharton’s way of telling readers that Mattie and Ethan will never get their time alone, that Zeena will always be in the way. Zeena’s red pickle dish sits upon a high shelf, and is not disturbed until Mattie takes it down and is broken by the cat. When Zeena discovers this, she confronts Mattie and Ethan, who blame the cat until Mattie blurts out that “The cat did break the dish; but I got it down from the China-closet, and I’m the one to blame for its getting broken”(54). Mattie is not only taking blame for the dish itself, but for the destruction of Ethan and Zeena’s marriage that the pickle dish represents. On the other hand, here Wharton tells readers that while the cat- Zeena- is responsible for the initial destruction, Mattie was the final straw for both the pickle dish- a wedding gift to Zeena and Mattie- and the marriage itself. When Zeena finally leaves the room, Wharton describes her as “…gathering up the bits of broken glass as she went out of the room as if she carried a dead body”(54). Here, the pickle dish is symbolic of the marriage once again, but Wharton shows Zeena as mourning, almost as if something has died. After reading the book one knows that Zeena and Ethan never separate, but Zeena’s actions give readers a strange sense of foreboding to their future as a couple that contributes to their knowledge of Ethan’s ever-darkening future.

Through foreshadowed events such as Mattie and Ethan’s accident, Ethan’s fate of never leaving Starkville, and Mattie’s growing similarity to Zeena, Wharton further convinces the reader that Ethan was doomed from the start. The elm tree- often describes as ‘hemlock’- is referenced throughout the novella as a place of both love and danger. While walking with Mattie, Ethan states that “The elm is dangerous. It ought to be cut down”(19). In having Ethan warn Mattie about the tree, Wharton foreshadows that this place will eventually cause irreversible damage to both Ethan and Mattie. This also creates an air of doom, while clues the reader into the idea that Ethan will not have a happy ending. Ethan dreams of leaving Starkville very often in the story, but the fate of his ancestors often predicts that this will be impossible. When walking through the tombstones of his deceased family in the yard, Ethan “…looked at them curiously. For years that quiet company had mocked his recklessness, his desire for change and freedom. ‘we never got away- how should you?’, seemed to be written on every headstone…”(21). The fact that even Ethan’s dead family hints at him never leaving alerts readers that Ethan’s chances of escape are slim, and that he is doomed to a life in Starkville.

When the narrator notes a discontented, whiny voice in the Frome house before readers know of Ethan’s end, it is assumed that the voice is Zeena. But by the end of the story it is revealed that as time passed, Mattie took on Zeena’s harsh traits as Zeena was forced to care for her. This is hinted at when Ethan notices that Mattie “…stood just as Zeena had stood, a lifted lamp in her hand, against the black background of the kitchen”(33). The similarities between the two women are slim. So, this revelation of Mattie following in Zeena’s footsteps is foreshadowing of how Mattie will transform from the woman Ethan fell in love with to a woman who is a factor of what makes his fate so horrible.

Ethan Frome can be seen as a story of hope; as a story of a man’s dream to escape with the one he loves. On the other hand, it displays the deterministic philosophy that nothing one does can change his or her fate. Edith Wharton uses symbolism and foreshadowing of events to come to display the latter, and to persuade readers of the idea that Ethan had no chance of escape from his doomed future. Some may argue that Ethan’s own flaws caused his bleak future. But as is true of most stories with deterministic and naturalistic views, fate is a powerful force that cannot be swayed by something as small as a character trait. Wharton uses devices to convince readers of this, and in doing so creates Ethan as a character of hero status, someone who, despite his best efforts, cannot escape the tragic fate that his been predetermined.

Use of Setting in Ethan Frome

Typically one of the subtler parts of a novel, setting usually serves as a frame that supports the plot and characters. In Ethan Frome, however, Edith Wharton reinvents the use of setting as an integral element of the story. She weaves the physical aspects of the weather and landscape so tightly among the characters’ inner feelings that the two become almost interchangeable. The prominence of the bleak winter weather in Ethan Frome demonstrates Wharton’s unique mode of storytelling and allows her to develop deeply complex characters.An unnamed visitor to the town of Starkfield narrates the preface and introduces the reader to Ethan Frome, the main character of the novel. He describes his curiosity upon seeing the taciturn, mysterious man, and resolves to find out what happened to transform “the most striking figure in Starkfield” to “the ruin of a man” (3). From his very first encounter with Ethan, the narrator views him through close parallels with the winter weather. The narrator employs Ethan to transport him by sleigh across town each day to do business and observes the strange man’s behavior as he navigates the icy terrain: “[Ethan] seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe…” (14). While the narrator continues to try to piece together information, he shares a casual yet significant remark from a townsman: “Guess [Ethan’s] been in Starkfield too many winters” (7). This comment, along with the other descriptions of Ethan in the introduction, form the foundation for Wharton’s use of the setting as a metaphor for the character’s inner struggles.The main conflict in Ethan Frome is revealed during Ethan’s two-mile trek through the snowy hills to escort his live-in housekeeper, Mattie, home from a dance. Ethan’s romantic feelings for Mattie are revealed in the first chapter; although Ethan is married, his wife’s sickliness and general unpleasantness cause Ethan to view her as more of an obstacle between him and the beautiful, lighthearted Mattie than a beloved wife. Wharton illustrates the contrast in Ethan’s feelings toward the two women largely through references to the setting. As Ethan walks home with his niece, the narrator reveals Ethan’s great appreciation of natural beauty. Mattie seems to ignite his senses: There were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew [Ethan and Mattie] together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow (34).The powerful imagery in this passage reflects Ethan’s passionate feelings toward Mattie; he sees her as a pure spark of youth, full of promise and beauty. His lust for her spreads from his own mind to color his surroundings. As soon as the two return home, however, the mood changes drastically. Zeena, Ethan’s wife, greets them at the door, appearing bony and witch-like beneath the shadows. Ethan and Mattie enter the house, which has “the deadly chill of a vault after the dry cold of the night” (53). Zeena’s last words to her husband before retiring for the night seal the polarization between her and her niece: “You might ‘a’ shook off that snow outside” (53). With this casual comment, Zeena swiftly kills the magic of the night; she fails to recognize the snow as a thing of beauty and instead views it as an annoyance.In addition to relating the weather to the characters’ states of mind, Wharton carries the metaphor of sledding throughout the novel. When Ethan picks up Mattie from the dance at the beginning of the story, she mentions a couple, Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum, whom she saw sledding down the hill that evening. She also recounts how happy the two seemed, and Ethan immediately relates that happiness to himself and Mattie. He promises to take her the next night, and although they do not find time to sled that night, the outing remains in both of their minds as a symbol of possibility and excitement. The sledding plans are an example of how the feelings between characters reflect in the setting; the exhilarating winter sport mirrors the pent-up emotions in Ethan and Mattie. Ironically, the sledding metaphor takes a dark turn toward the end of the novel. Zeena, both jealous of Mattie and fairly ill, decides that she needs a more competent helper than her niece, so she sends Ethan to put Mattie on a train out of Starkfield and pick up the new girl waiting at the station. Ethan and Mattie, both heartbroken at the thought of leaving each other and sending Mattie away with nowhere to go, stand together at the top of the sledding hill on their way to the train station. No longer full of majestic beauty, their surroundings reflect their despair: “The spruces swathed them in blackness and silence. They might have been in their coffins underground” (167). Mattie decides that the trip down the hill will be her last and demands that Ethan steer the sled right into the big elm tree at the bottom of the hill: “Ethan! Ethan! I want you to take me down again…Right into the big elm. You said you could. So ‘t we’d never have to leave each other any more” (165). The use of the snow and the elm tree as a means of suicide holds great significance; the natural place once so full of hope for the possibilities between Ethan and Mattie now offers nothing but death. From the first page to the last, Wharton demonstrates a mastery of the incorporation of setting into a story. She successfully uses it to illustrate the budding romance between Ethan and Mattie, the inner suffering inside Ethan, and finally the characters’ despair and hopelessness. Instead of assuming the typical minor role setting plays in most novels, the setting in Ethan Frome lends a distinct flavor to the story that makes the novel powerful and unique.

Ethan and Mattie: Victim and Victor

It is under the most repressive limitations that the strength of one’s character and one’s ability to defy and transcend such limits can truly be measured. This idea is confirmed in Edith Wharton’s novel, Ethan Frome, the story of a young man trapped in an unfulfilling marriage to a sickly older woman. Ethan and Mattie Silver, a second main character and the object of Ethan’s affection, both react to the oppressive setting and power of local convention quite differently in their never-ending battle to be together. Ethan falls victim to the power of local convention while Mattie displays her untiring spirit and defies the social norm.Ethan Frome, the novel’s protagonist, is an unhappy young man who is caught in a quandary over whether to remain loyal to his wife and prolong his misery, or to pursue his passion for Mattie. His dilemma occurs because of the struggle between his passions and the constraints placed on him by the public. In the end, Ethan lacks the inner strength necessary to escape the oppressive forces of the setting, his wife, and convention.One of the first examples of Ethan’s moral cowardice is seen on the night when Zeena departs for Bettsbridge, leaving Ethan and Mattie alone. They go about their usual domestic duties somewhat gingerly, avoiding the topic that is really on both of their minds, their relationship. “Now, in the warm lamp lit room, with all its ancient implications of conformity and order, she seemed infinitely farther away from him and more unapproachable” (Wharton 81). That night, Ethan is also restrained by the apparent presence of his wife in the room, even though she really isn’t there. “Ethan, a moment earlier, had felt himself on the brink of eloquence; but the mention of Zeena had paralysed him” (Wharton 73). Although Ethan is tempted to act on his feelings, especially now that he and Mattie are alone, he allows himself to be mastered by the setting and his wife, and is unable to go beyond a timid kiss of Mattie’s sewing fabric. His passivity is demonstrated again later in the novel when he plans to run west upon hearing of Zeena’s dismissal of Mattie, but is unable to muster the courage to bring himself to lie to his neighbors, the Hales, to get the money he would need to do so. He convinces himself that “There was no way out – none. He was a prisoner for life” (Wharton 117). Ethan is so concerned that the rest of the town might shun such a bold, rebellious action and think less of him, that he is held back, once again, by his obedience to accepted social customs.Mattie Silver is a lively, attractive young woman who, at the age of twenty, has become a penniless orphan. Having had no success with various jobs because of her health, Mattie comes to live with her cousin, Zeena, to help with household tasks. With her beauty, charm, and sweet disposition, Mattie brings life back into the Frome house, and proves that she is of a strong enough mind to stand against social convention.In the first scene of the novel, Mattie is pressured by Dennis Eady to allow him to give her a ride home. She coolly states, “Goodnight! I’m not getting in” (Wharton 39). Refusing to let anyone disrupt her cheerful temperament, Mattie immediately establishes the idea that she does what she wants to do; she has a mind of her own. Also in the opening scene, particular attention is paid to the “cherry-coloured” scarf she wears on her head and twirls about herself while dancing. The association between Mattie and the color red proves to be appropriate because she falls in love with Ethan, a married man, and red is the color that is most often used to symbolize sin and passion. When Zeena deliberately hires a new girl to care for herself, Mattie is forced to leave, but cannot bear the thought of letting go of Ethan. At the climax of the novel, her true, passionate, reckless, and somewhat immature self shines through. While sledding during their last hour to be spent together, Mattie rashly asks Ethan to steer their sled into a large elm tree at the bottom of the hill so they can die together. She convinces him to obey her request by pleading with him, “Ethan, where’ll I go if I leave you? I don’t know how to get along alone” (Wharton 143). This statement unveils her impulsive, adolescent nature; such qualities might have made Ethan think otherwise of attempting to take his own life at her mere request, had he not been so blinded by the beautiful source of escape she had seemed to provide throughout the novel. However, her words also reveal her disregard for local convention in that she is ready to give in to any thought, no matter how foolish, that enters her mind. Mattie fell in love with Ethan, openly expressed her feelings for him, and was not afraid to follow her heart.Both Ethan and Mattie struggle to keep their passions from being overtaken by the power of local convention. Battling both the long, oppressive winters of Starkfield and a rough adolescence, Mattie Silver is still able to be herself and grow as an individual while providing a breath of fresh air on the Frome farm. On the other hand, Ethan allows the climate, his ailing wife, and most of all, his strict adherence to local convention, to prevent him from acting upon his love for Mattie. In novella form, Wharton provides the reader with both a victim and victor of society’s conventions in the late part of the nineteenth century.

Restraints on Desire in Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence

Human nature has always been tempted by the irresistible emotion of desire, and as perfectly said by Benedict de Spinoza, “Desire is the very essence of man”. Although various degrees of desire can be achieved in our society, there are still many barriers that hinder the accomplishment of desire. Two men- Ethan Frome and Newland Archer- whose desires are tragically unfulfilled, ideally represent the effect of society’s critical eye. Although under different social circumstances, the two men equally share the pain of unobtainable passion. The question of morals also markedly affects these two men in profound ways. In Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, society and morality are seen as restraints for the fulfillment of desire.Described as a reserved and subdued man, Ethan Frome’s bleak environment sets the stage for imposing restraints against him. Although he loves Mattie, Ethan’s feelings are clearly held back due to his surroundings. Zeena- Ethan’s wife and biggest opponent- is his greatest obstacle. Because of Zeena, Ethan felt “he was a prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light [Mattie ] was to be extinguished” (Wharton 107). Also, Zeena’s pervasive presence forces Ethan to wonder if he must “wear out all his years at the side of a bitter querulous woman” (Wharton 104). While Zeena may just be one person impacting Ethan’s craving for desire, her solitary figure can also represent society’s strict moralities. With these feelings of remorse, its is clear how big of an impact society has on Ethan’s desire for Mattie. Not only does Zeena restrict Ethan’s passion, but societal traditions also impact Ethan.Along with Zeena’s effective limitation of Ethan’s desire, Ethan’s night alone with Mattie represents how society bears its moral weight even in the most intimate moments. The dreamlike evening Ethan and Mattie spend together is essentially permeated with the imaginary, but watchful eyes of society. Ethan felt that in the “warm lamplit room, with all its ancient implications of conformity and order, [Mattie] seemed infinitely farther away and more unapprochable” (Wharton 76). Perhaps Ethan may not have realized that society was “watching” him, but yet he clearly had an instinctive feeling of society’s restricting moralities. As their evening ends, not only does Ethan realize his desires were unattainable mentally, but even in a physical sense, Ethan “remembered that he had not even touched her hand” (Wharton 79). Combining Zeena’s imposing figure and society’s universal moralities, Ethan Frome’s desires for Mattie Silver were absolutely hindered. Not only is Ethan a victim of these restrictions against desire, but Ethan’s fellow protagonist, Newland Archer, also becomes prey to society and its morals.Shifting from the poor rural life of Ethan Frome to the affluent aristocrats of Newland Archer’s society- the same pattern of society’s limitations is shown. In Newland’s case, the rigid social structure of high-end New York is substantially even more threatening than Ethan’s surroundings. Also in constant criticism from society, Newland’s love for Ellen is manipulatively kept under secret, as not to arouse any suspicion from likely gossipers. When Newland and Ellen are alone at Ellen’s house, Newland finally indirectly hints at his desire for Ellen. But, exasperated by the restrains from society, Ellen hopelessly exclaims to Newland, “Isn’t it you who made me give up divorcing–give it up because you showed me how selfish and wicked it was, how one must sacrifice one’s self to preserve the dignity of marriage 2E . . and to spare one’s family the publicity, the scandal?” (Wharton 159). The only reason for this bitterness of the two lovers is New York society’s inflexible and traditional morals. Newland’s desire for Ellen seems to come to a dead end, all in fear of disfiguring the family name. Not only is his desire for Ellen halted during their young adulthood, but a senior Newland also reminisces about why he lost Ellen.Looking back at his life, Newland’s memories of Ellen have slightly faded, but the threats of society’s morals are still clear as ever in his mind. Although his life with May was pleasant, Newland’s unfulfilled desire for Ellen scarred his soul. Recalling his former years, Newland knew “he had missed: the flower of life. But he thought of it now as a thing so unattainable and improbable that to have repined […]” (Wharton 294). Newland had the chance to blossom with this “flower of life” but it would be utterly impossible under society’s rules. The fact that Ellen still weighs so heavily on Newland’s conscience after so many years further substantiates society’s moral limitations. Although Newland could have chosen to be with Ellen, his time and place in society suppressed his desire for Ellen; thus showing once again how overpowering society’s restrictions were.Like modern day Romeos and Juliets, Ethan Frome, Newland Archer and their lovers all were restrained from their desire due to society’s imposing figure. Zeena’s “querulous” character and society’s omnipresent “eyes” were all it took to keep Ethan from fulfilling his desire for Mattie. In Newland Archer’s case, upper-class New York society- with its firm and traditional morals hindered Newland’s everlasting love for the Countess Olenska. These two men, although from completely different societies, shared the same sorrow of unfulfilled desire. It is safe to say they were victims of society’s moralities, and the love they gave up deeply affected their consciousness. Ethan and Newland’s journey through society’s scrutinizing road was harsh, and in the end, their love was profoundly sacrificed for the standards of society.

Framing, Perspective, and the Reader’s Immersion: Structural Analysis of Ethan Frome

Since its first publication in 1995, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien is, arguably, the greatest epic fantasy to ever be written. Encapsulating the classic theme of “good against evil,” along with its various subplots and well-developed characters; the novel’s depth and rich details make it a timeless piece of literature. However, the story’s true success lies in its exemplary balance between realism and fantasy. To achieve this dimension, Tolkien structures his novel through frame narrative– a story within a story in which the narrator provides both a context and history of the inner narrative. In the prologue of the The Lord of the Rings, a historical frame is developed when Tolkien addresses “The Red Book of Westmarch”, a theoretical and encompassing frame for all the stories of Middle Earth, including The Lord of the Rings. This putative outer frame, which is supposedly Tolkien’s source of narration, is imperative to the novel’s success and acclamation. It represents the greater realities of Middle Earth, the multilateral perspectives, and adds ample amount of depth to his already complex fantasies. Through the use of this device, readers are enabled to relate to such an imaginative universe. Likewise, in Edith Wharton’s highly acclaimed novel, Ethan Frome, a frame narrative is also utilized in order to add depth and realism. Wharton wrote the prologue and epilogue to constitute an all-encompassing frame around the tragic story of Ethan Frome. She uses this structure to relay Ethan’s complicated and plaintive life, while also influencing realism and the societal backlash from which Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena suffer from.

The frame structure, exemplified by the narrator in the prologue, is used as an intermediary to create the slightest bit of uncertainty, while also adding dimension to the storytelling technique. Both dimension and uncertainty are the building blocks of any real world and Wharton utilizes these elements in order to refrain from the utopian implications upon `her picture. Through the use of the frame story and narrator in the prologue, Wharton is able to introduce realism to her readers which not only adds to her rhetoric but also affirms a strong author-to-reader relationship. The unknown narrator first meets Ethan Frome at the local post office of Starkfield and is instantaneously intrigued by his appearance. The narrator recalls, “I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp.” (Wharton 3). The narrator’s curiosity, in this instance, is parallel to that of the reader’s. The element of uncertainty and dimension seen in the narrator’s development translates to the curiosity of the reader. Through this the tactical use of a frame narrative, Wharton is enabled to contemporize a reader into Frome’s journey.

The frame structure allows Wharton to prove her intentions of a realistic picture through the construction of, and attention to, “minor detail.” (Wharton xviii). She understands that the two most fundamental elements of her picture are “the deep-rooted reticence and inarticulateness of the people,” (Wharton xviii) and “the effect of “roundness.”’ (Wharton xviii). Like uncertainty and dimension, these elements also convey realism and are prevalent throughout the frame. Mattie Silver is a dynamic and round character, she is extremely realistic and increases in complexity alongside Ethan Frome. On the other hand, Ethan Frome being quiet by nature represents Wharton’s reticent intentions. The combination of the frame narrative, the narrator, and realistic intentions all come to a conclusion in the epilogue. Here, Wharton settles the frame story and shifts the point of view to the narrator. The narrator concludes, “They all thought Mattie couldn’t live. Well, I say it’s a pity she did.” (Wharton 157). By ending the frame structure on such unexpected yet profound terms, Wharton touches upon the roots of realism by reflecting her many intentions. The uncertainty and dimension, as mentioned earlier, play an impactful role in the deduction of realism. The uncertainty of whether Mattie would live or not, and the dimensions involving their societal backlash, all contribute to Wharton’s final frontier of realism. Not to mention, Mattie’s conclusive “roundness” as a character, where she now faces the pinnacle of complexity alongside Ethan. From the prologue to the epilogue, the frame structure encapsulated all these elements and developed a sophisticated outlook on the story for the reader.

Additional structural successes of the novel lie in the light and dark imagery, which Edith Wharton uses as a stage light for certain scenes. In literal essence, stage lighting is the craft of light applying to live performance arts. The direction and color of the stage light implicate a certain image and atmosphere. Likewise, Wharton uses light and dark imagery to highlight certain aspects of the story, while also setting a mood. Simply, Ethan’s desires for Mattie are represented by light and warmth, while Zeena and reality are represented by darker imagery. During the night of Zeena’s absence, Ethan and Mattie’s shared moments represent the warmest of colors. As they converse, Ethan notices “the lamplight sparkling on her lips and teeth” (Wharton 79), and he watches the way her face changed “like a wheat-field under a summer breeze” (Wharton 79). Juxtaposing the colorful prominence, Ethan is also faced with darkness amidst Zeena’s sudden disapproval for Mattie. At this point, Ethan faces an all-time low which is reflected in the light imagery: “There was no way out—none. He was a prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light was to be extinguished.” (Wharton 117). Ethan is hopeless and the light in him slowly fades into the darkness. The presence of light and darkness juxtapose various scenes, once again, adding dimension and realism. The tragic novel is pervaded with darkness, however, the occasional flashes of light add to the multi-dimensional platform of the story.

All the literary and structural device used by Wharton continue to epitomize Ethan Frome as a timeless novel. She used these techniques to touch upon the roots of humanity through the incorporation of realistic perpetuation: where realism is continuously preserved to represent a truthful story. She chose to incorporate a structure that would enhance the novel’s intricacy and development of her characters. Throughout Wharton’s development and structure, one is constantly reminded of reality and the nature of life.

Choices and Limitations: Understanding the Mentality of Ethan Frome Himself

Is the cause of fate an attitude toward life, or is it the people or places one has known? Edith Wharton shows within her book, Ethan Frome, how choices determine one’s fate. Ethan Frome is a story about a man who marries a woman whom he does not love, and he soon falls in love with his wife’s cousin. As the plot unfolds, Ethan is forced to make decisions that will either bring him to the life of love he is looking for, or it will lead him down the path of defeat and failure. The choices he makes will affect the way his future is revealed, and the author, Edith Wharton, examines and explains this through her plot, the conflicts that occur, and the use of irony within the story in order to provide understanding to why this theme is true.

The choices that Ethan makes are main steps in the plot that allow an opening for the next step further in the book. When “He asked [Zeena] to stay with him” (Wharton 29), Ethan creates his first choice that leads to the next. This indicates how marrying Zeena, turns his life around as he takes a different path. In addition to that, instead of falling in love with the girl he did marry, Ethan starts loving Mattie, causing the plot to move even further on. “Oh Matt I can’t let you go!” (Wharton 70) He says as he confesses his love for her. He can’t love his wife, and when he falls for Mattie it changes his whole life. These choices bring the plot further along and cause the rest of the story to rest on them. The author also defines Ethan’s character in the beginning and end of the book to show that his choices lead to his sad life within the plot.

In the very beginning of the book, Ethan is portrayed as a man who has been through devastating events that cause him to have “something bleak and unapproachable in his face…” (Wharton 1). This displays how the reader knows that Ethan’s life is full of tragedy and how his choices lead to it. Ethan’s life is not just defined in the beginning of the book; his life is also wrapped up in the end saying “…It’s him that suffers the most” (Wharton 77). This indicates the effect of all his bad choices: sad and full of suffering. With this in mind, the plot explains Ethan’s life in the prologue and epilogue to begin and end the tough life of Ethan Frome. Ethan’s conflicts within himself cause him to make swift and unsure decisions that end in poor outcomes. His poor choice when he asked Zeena to stay was based on the conflict with himself. “He was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone… [And] before he knew what he was doing he had asked her to stay there with him” (Wharton 29). Ethan is fighting with himself because he does not want to be alone and forgotten, so he tries to end that conflict by making the easy choice: he asks her to stay. In addition to that, Ethan has conflict not only with himself but with his life in general. He felt that “The sweetness of Mattie’s avowal… made other vision more abhorrent, the other life more intolerable to return to” (Wharton 71). This caused him to make the wrong choice of killing himself rather than facing his life and ruining what he had in the long run.

The conflict with Ethan’s wife is also the effect of poor decision making in the story. Ethan’s poor choice to hide the broken dish rather than to confront his wife causes conflict with her. When he “…Laid the pieces together… [so] that a close inspection convinced him of the impossibility of detecting…that the dish was broken” (Wharton 36) he opened up a new form of deceit that caused the argument. If he had only told her that the dish broke when she came home, he could have avoided the worst of the conflict with her. Even more so, Ethan falls in love with Mattie which causes conflict with his wife. He has an argument for the first time with Zeena, which is caused by his choice to love Mattie. Zeena jealously states, “’I’ve kep’ her here a whole year: it’s somebody else’s turn now’” (Wharton 49) when she announces that she is sending Mattie away. If Ethan didn’t fall in love with Mattie then Zeena may not have wished to send her away resulting in an argument between the couple. If Ethan hadn’t chosen to commit adultery, then he may have not caused the conflict between him and his wife. The conflict with Ethan’s poverty and bondage leads to poor decisions based on feelings of petulance. Ethan’s choice not to strengthen his relationship with his wife causes the story to grow when they have their first fight. When it is revealed that “it was the first scene of open anger between the couple in their sad seven years” (Wharton 48) the reader finally understands how they were not the best couple. They had never fought before, but they still don’t try to act like spouses when they could have gotten to know one another and fallen in love.

Not only the miscommunication between the couple, but also Ethan’s choice to stay and take care of Zeena rather than going back to college, causes the intensity to rise. Ethan decides to stay and take on the burden of his family members and the farm. “’Somebody had to stay and take care of the folks. There warn’t ever anybody but Ethan.’” (Wharton 2) True, he had to care for them, but he was not obliged to marry Zeena and he could have gone back to college. Sadly, because he decided to bring her into the family, he was taken prisoner and had to live the rest of his days with her at the house. Both his choices to marry Zeena and not to love her cause Ethan to have conflict with her and problems with the rest of his life. The irony of Ethan Frome expands the reader’s mind, causing him or her to have a deeper understanding on decision-making. It shows how decisions may not all be the best even when they seem like it and how the dramatic irony in the end causes the reader to know that Ethan ruins his life by going down that hill. The irony also shows how Ethan himself is ironic as a character. The decisions that he makes seem good at the time, but, ironically, they all turn out for the worst. It seems good for him to fall in love with Mattie because she was a good person, and when they were alone together, “he would have liked to stand… with her all night in the blackness” (Wharton 19) for it seemed right that they should be together. Since he is enamored with Mattie, Zeena’s jealousy grows, causing the couple to plummet into a tragic future.

Mattie is not just another person; she was also lively and that’s just what Ethan needed in his life. Ethan was captivated with Mattie because she was like the bright summer when compared to the wintery cold of Zeena. When “[Ethan] kept his eyes fixed on [Mattie], marveling at the way her face changed with each turn of their talk, like a wheat field under a summer breeze,” (Wharton 38) he knew that he needed the life in her that his wife didn’t have. If he had only tried to make Zeena this way then they could have been happy. Since he fell for Mattie instead, Ethan’s life fell down hill. In the last choice of the book, the reader knows principally how it will turn out, so the dramatic irony reveals Ethan’s true fate rather than the one he was looking for through the choice that he makes. If he had only left Zeena when he had the chance, he would have had a better life. Ethan wrote, “Zeena, I’ve done all I could for you, and I don’t see as it’s been any use…Maybe both of us will do better separate” (Wharton 56). The reader, here, wishes he would leave because they know how his life turns out when Ethan doesn’t. Instead of leaving, though, Ethan makes a different decision that leads him to the next one: committing suicide.

Ethan doesn’t think deeply about the outcome of this choice; he just listens to the girl that he wished he could spend the rest of his life with. When Mattie suggests, “’the coast right off… So’t we’ll never come up any more’” (Wharton 70) Ethan thinks her crazy first, but then realizes that it may not be such a dreadful idea, for he had nothing that he loved back home. He decides that he would be better dead, but the reader is telling him not to attempt suicide because they know that he won’t die. Once he chooses to die rather than running away, he ruins his life because he doesn’t die. Ethan as a character is perceived as a strong-willed, lively man with a dream, but, because of his choices, he ironically turns out to actually be a pushover who allows his sympathy, compassion, and thoughtfulness to cause him suffering. Ethan thinks too much about what will happen to Zeena if he leaves. “But what of Zeena?” (Wharton 56), Ethan asks himself when he debates to leave or not. He should have just left rather than think about the outcome. Ethan also thinks too much about Mattie in the beginning of the book. He helps her because he is too sympathetic and that makes Zeena jealous. When “He did his best to supplement her unskilled efforts” (Wharton 15), he brought upon him the anger of Zeena when he didn’t have to have it. If Ethan hadn’t helped Mattie then he may not have caused his wife to be jealous.

If Ethan hadn’t been a push-over, he could have saved himself from the defeat that binds him in the end. Edith Wharton reveals the theme; choices determine fate, through the plot structure, the conflict, and the irony to give valuable understanding on making choices and to go in depth on how it happens in Ethan Frome. If choices are the thing that determines fate, then decisions should be made wisely, for one may not wish for the fate that the choice provided.

Works Cited Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. New York: Dover Publications, 1911. Print

A Feminist Literary Analysis of ‘Ethan Frome’: Zeena’s Problematic Portrayal

Feminism is a movement about value and respect. It is a movement that is still evolving in our modern age to be ever more inclusive and aware of the experiences of all women. According to Robert Dale Parker’s book, Interpreting Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies, Feminism “is a simple concept and it involves taking women seriously and respectfully” (149). Although Parker sees it as a “simple concept” in the past, the idea that women even needed to be taken into consideration in society didn’t enter into a larger discourse. “The word feminism, as a term for supporting women’s rights did not enter the English Language until the 1890s” (Parker 148). Meaning the idea of women having rights was not articulated in the English language until almost the nineteen-hundreds. Given such constraints women could become ill and the common diagnosis was hysteria. Whether hysteria was an illness of the mind or of the body is beside the point. Meaning it doesn’t matter if women were actually afflicted with a disease or not, but what does matter, is that this illness did result in women’s roles in the family being altered, and in certain ways gave them more agency than society usually offered them.

The book Ethan Fromeby Edith Wharton demonstrates this idea expressed in Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s essay “The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th-Century America,” that illness gave women of that period a way to escape from the pressures of their lives through her character Zeena. Although illness might appear on the surface to give Zeena some autonomy in a period where women had little control of their lives, it is still a sexist portrayal since Zeena is framed as selfish and suffocating due to her illness. Although she is framed in some ways as selfish, her lonely mediocre life is a clear cause for her hysterical symptoms. Ethan Frome confirms sexist ideas shared by many, including their very doctors, of the period about women who had hysteria.

Although Zeena does appear to have some autonomy in her life, ultimately her autonomy is the result of an illness that stems from the patriarchal society in which she lives which proves to be no autonomy at all. In the nineteenth century, women had very little autonomy in their lives, which may have led them to extremes to find some outlet to compensating for the rigidity they experienced in their roles in everyday life whether consciously or unconsciously. In her paper “The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th-Century America” Carroll Smith-Rosenberg explained that hysteria “was a protean ailment characterized by such varied symptoms as paraplegia, aphonia, hemi-anesthesia, and violent epileptoid seizures” (652). This is all to say hysteria had many symptoms that seemed unrelated as well as random. In Ethan Frome, Zeena’s illness is never actually diagnosed, and seems to stem from her own misery, reflecting the pattern of many women in the 19thcentury. Was it misery in all cases that was the root cause of hysteria? What was the reason for such a disease to afflict so many? One major reason, according to Smith-Rosenberg could be the limited roles women were allowed to play in society. She explains that the “ideal female in nineteenth-century America was expected to be gentle and refined, sensitive and loving. She was the guardian of religion and spokeswoman for morality” (655). Women were locked into these roles without their permission. They had the pressures acting a certain way in order be considered proper in society. This was an enormous emotional load.On top of that, women were expected to marry, take care of a household, have children, take care of their children, as well as the needs of their husbands. Outside of these roles, women were not given an outlet to express themselves and had little power to change these circumstances, which, according to Smith-Rosenberg, may have been why an illness like hysteria manifested itself: “hysteria can be seen as an alternate role option for particular women incapable of accepting their life situation… Hysteria thus serves as a valuable indicator both of domestic stress and of the tactics through which some individuals sought to resolve that stress” (655). Hysteria was a way for women to change their circumstances, to attain things they would not have been able to otherwise. This very “stress” is exhibited by Zeena in Wharton’s book Ethan Frome. When Zeena comes home from her most recent doctors visit the audience discovers that she feels that she became ill while nursing Ethan’s sick mother before they were married. Zeena rages at Ethan for his questing the financial situation that her illness has put the two in: “For I’d have been ashamed to tell him[the doctor] that you grudged me the money to get back my heath when I lost it nursing your own mother!” (111). Zeena’s hysteria may have resulted from the stresses of taking care of Ethan’s sick mother, a time when she would have had to put aside all of her own needs to devote them to not only the mother, but most likely the son as well. This may be why her illness manifested itself. Doctors during the time seemed to notice this pattern of stress and labeled hysteria a woman’s disease which makes sense since it was the women who lacked independence, it was Zeena who was put into the position to do nothing but serve Ethan and his mother. “Physicians reported a high incidence of nervous disease and hysteria among women who felt overwhelmed by the burdens of frequent pregnancies, the demands of children, the daily exertions of housekeeping and family management” (Smith-Rosenberg 657). Since they were so boxed into their roles in life, unconsciously these women may have seen hysteria as the only way to, in simple terms, get their way. But, instead of looking at hysteria as a disease that afflicted individuals because of their lack of autonomy, and trying to help women change their circumstances, women with hysteria were framed as something other, lacking all of the admirable qualities of a wife and mother. Zeena in Wharton’s book, confirms these thoughts about women with a chronic illnesses like hysteria. Wharton’s character Zeena has an unknown illness that although is not named could be interpreted as hysteria or something like hysteria, which may have given her some power in her life during a period when most women had little. “Hysteria thus became one way in which conventional women could express—in most cases unconsciously—dissatisfaction with one or several aspects of their lives” (Smith-Rosenberg 672). Therefore, hysteria gave women a way to have autonomy. It gave them away to make decisions in their lives outside of the standard social norms of which they were expected to uphold. Wharton’s character Zeena in Ethan Fromeseems to demonstrate this very idea. In chapter seven Zeena comes home from seeing a doctor in another town. This doctor told her that she had “complications” (108) which Ethan, her husband, tells us is a grave diagnosis that most people don’t survive. However, Zeena says that she might overcome her illness if she “should have a hired girl. He says I oughtn’t to have to do a single thing around the house” (110). For Zeena to overcome her illness, she must put aside her usual duties and have some help around the house. Zeena, after so many years of taking care of both Ethan and his mother on her own might have succumbed to the stress, which would allow her to change her circumstances. This proposal by Zeena to have a girl conforms what Smith-Rosenberg’s conclusion that hysteria meant a dramatic shift in the family dynamic. It meant that a woman could not behave as they normally would have in the period, as a mother, caretaker, wife. It meant that others in a family would have to step in to take over these roles. “Household activities were reoriented to answer the hysterical woman’s importunate needs. Children were hushed, rooms darkened entertaining suspended, a devoted nurse recruited” (Smith-Rosenberg 672). Zeena’s need for a girl (devoted nurse) is in line with what most women in the period expected to receive after the diagnosis. However, these requirements are not merely seen as the cure for the ailment but put the woman in the position to be seen as selfish and a target for ridicule. Instead of trying to be compassionate towards an illness that seemed to be about gaining the smallest amount of control in their lives, women of the time could be treated as a burden as Zeena is treated in Ethan Frome. Zeena is portrayed as a villain by Ethan for needing a girl to help her around the house because of the constraints such a requirement would put on their already precarious financial situation. “Wrath and dismay contended in Ethan. He had foreseen an immediate demand for money, but not a permanent drain on his scant resources. He no longer believed what Zeena had told him of the supposed seriousness of her state” (Wharton 110). Ethan sees Zeena as a drain on his income and doesn’t believe that she is ill. Wharton, instead of writing a character sympathetic to his sick wife’s state, instead of perhaps finding a reason for why she is so ill, Wharton uses Ethan to characterize Zeena as selfish, unconcerned with her husband’s worries. This is in line with what Smith-Rosenberg writes about people’s attitudes towards the illness during the period: “conscious anger and hostility marked the response of a good many doctors to their hysterical patients. One… neurologist called the female hysteric a willful, self-indulgent and narcissistic person who cynically manipulated her symptoms” (670). Even by their doctors, women who were suffering, whether from actual illness or their difficult circumstances, were treated as something contemptuous. Wharton writing Zeena this way, perpetuates this feeling as well as creates a justification for feeling these women were disgraceful. Wharton writes Zenna in diametric opposition to Ethan. Zeena is framed as self-serving, and this selfishness destroys any happiness Ethan is seeking. Whereas Ethan is framed as only trying to do all he can for his household, “there’s a whole lot more I can do for you, and Mattie—” (Wharton 114) says Ethan trying to show his devotion to his wife as well as their maid. Even in while he is trying to be happy he still looks to satisfy his wife, who appears to never be satisfiable. While at the same time he shows his devotion to his potential mistress. However, because of the way Zeena is portrayed readers are encouraged to feel sorry for Ethan and even root for his infidelity. Wharton enforces a negative stereotype about women who suffered from hysteria instead of blatantly justifying Zeena’s actions.Wharton enforces the stereotype that women who suffered from hysteria were selfish, uncaring about whether or not their needs would hurt their families or not. Further, while Ethan is characterized as just trying to do the best he can for a his wife, she writes Zeena as a dark figure in the room with him: “Zeena’s face stood grimly out against the uncurtained pane, which had turned from grey to black” (Wharton 111-112). Zeena, because of her illness, is the darkness in Ethan’s life that envelopes his happiness. Wharton takes an even more negative step because the audience is only allowed to see Zeena through Ethan’s male lens.The audience is not allowed to peer into Zeena’s inner thoughts, so they are never really sure what her motives are for how she is behaving. Ethan is the only person given perspective in the book which means it is easier to sympathize with him. So, when he continues to express his dismay over the new demands Zeena brings home to him related to her illness, the audience continues to see her as a villain. Zeena’s portrayal as a villain is only compounded when Zeena suggests that Ethan throw out their ward and servant, Mattie, who Ethan has fallen in love with so that Ethan could better afford another hired hand. “She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others” (Wharton 118). Wharton writes Zeena not as a woman who is being wronged by her husband, who plans to have an extramarital relationship with her relative, Mattie, but as an advisory whose illness is the cause for her poor husband’s misery.

Edith Wharton, instead of taking the opportunity to write a character that breaks stereotypes about women with illness in the nineteenth century, wrote a character who conforms to the sexist and limited views people have of them. Although the disease did give Zeena the chance to have some control over her life by requiring help or housework, the fact that the audience can only read her through Ethan, and his negative lens, Zeena is never thought of as anything other than a failed, and suffocating woman, who takes away Ethan’s joy. Zeena is never given a chance to have a voice in this story, mirroring the plight of many women in the period.


Parker, Robert Dale. How to interpret literature: Critical theory for literary and cultural studies. Nueva York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp.149-155 Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th-Century America.” Social Research, vol. 29, no. 4, 1972. Pp. 652-678Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. New York Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922. Pp. 107-127