April 27, 2008
Frome’s Desire and the Path to the Elm
Of the many themes present in Edith Wharton's tragic novel, Ethan Frome that could be discussed at length, one of these that above all seem to drive the plot of the novel from event to event. This is the theme of desire. Each character in the novel has things that they long for privately and publicly. They make decisions based on these longings and lead the reader on a path from an unhappy marriage and innocent love to tragedy at the bottom of an elm tree.
Wharton's novel shows a variety of private desires within its characters and how this influences the outcome of this story. In his youth, Ethan is a bright young man who has an aptitude for technology and engineering. He is shown to have a deep attachment to nature and often finds comfort in the landscape around him despite its oppressiveness and isolation in winter. Ethan's farm is barren and provides little income for him, yet he often notes the beauty of his natural surroundings and seems to have an interest in knowing more than he can learn in Starkfield. Ethan's interests lead him to desire a life away from his home and the long winter season there. Little is said about his time in Florida but it is implied that he was very happy there and got a taste of what life could be like for him. This time in his life shows him all of the things he does not have later in Starkfield.
The first real taste of misfortune for Ethan comes when his father is kicked in the head by a horse. Wharton writes that after the accident Frome's father gave away money "like Bible text" and slowly left the family in poverty (Frome, p. 7). Later, his mother is afflicted with an illness that causes her to fade both mentally and physically over the course of several years, leaving the Frome's with nothing but their farm. Ethan must return to Starkfield permanently to care for his parents, and the many doors... [continues]
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