Ethan Frome Foreshadowing Plot and Conflict

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In the novel Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, foreshadowing is used to show and explain plot and conflict within the novel. The narrator’s introduction to the story describes Ethan as a crippled man who has had a “smash-up“(11), foreshadowing that his relationship with Mattie will meet a tragic end. In the beginning of the novel, the narrator makes several references to the “smash-up” (11) foreshadowing that the way Ethan, the main character, looks has something to do with this so called “smash-up” (11). “Even then he was still the most striking figure in Starkfield, though he was but a ruin of a man” (11). Ethan’s looks gave the narrator an impression that Ethan was an old man. “There was something bleak and unapproachable in his face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that [the narrator] took him for an old man and was surprised to hear that [Ethan] was not more than fifty- two” (11).

The repeated references to sledding, and to the dangers associated with it, foreshadow the climactic scene in which Ethan and Mattie crash into the elm tree. When they reach Starkfield they see some boys with sleds leaving the sledding-grounds, and at the top of the hill Ethan asks Mattie if she’d like to coast down with him one time before they drive to the station. Mattie says there isn’t time, but Ethan helps her onto a sled that’s lying under the trees and climbs on behind her. Mattie asks him if he can see, and Ethan says he could steer them down with his eyes closed. He peers through the dusk and they fly down the hill, passing safely by the elm. Ethan asks Mattie if she was scared, and she replies that she is never scared when she’s with him. Ethan boasts that he is a good judge of distances, but that one swerve would have sent them into the elm, and they’d “never ha’ come up again” (128). Ethan feels strong and competent; Mattie feels protected and cared for. Ethan’s boast that his judgment saved them from a collision makes Mattie realize that they could easily kill...
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