English 11 Honors
10 January 2011
Ethan Frome: Torn Between Two Worlds
The novel Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, is set in turn-of-the-century New England, in the fake town of Starkfield, Massachusetts. During this time, both men and women were torn between duty and morality, and personal desire. People were expected to follow the societal norms, which although plagued them, were deemed as correct and proper. This social constraint placed on individuals cause them to make the decision of whether to be accepted by society, or whether to be happy. During this time, society was trapped in a web of their own formed ideas and opinions. It is this constant struggle between desire and what is socially acceptable that drives the main theme of Edith Wharton’s novel. In the novel Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome is faced with conflicts that cause him to make a decision between social morals, and the fulfillment of his desires to establish Wharton’s theme that society and conformity acts as a restriction on happiness. Ethan’s sense of responsibility first comes into conflict with his strong desire to leave Starkfield and pursue a career in engineering. But with the recent death of his father, he is forced to return to Starkfield and run the family farm while continuing to provide for his ailing wife. This becomes apparent in the prologue, when the Narrator’s discovery of his interest in the sciences indicates that Ethan had dreams that were never fulfilled. His inner need for knowledge and learning, almost “frozen” under a shroud of a life of simplicity and staticity, is without a doubt a consequence of “... too many winters.”(13) spent in Starkfield. This negation of his aspirations causes him to live with a sense of regret that plagues him, and drastically effects his future decisions. During the prologue, Harmon Gow tells the Narrator that “Most of the smart ones get away.” (13), and immediately starts to wonder as to why Ethan Frome is...