Ethan Frome Key Passage Analysis

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Thoughts on a section of Ethan Frome… (p.33 -34)

Edith Wharton quite deliberately brings together human emotion and the environment in her novella Ethan Frome. The characters are circumscribed by the environment in which they exist and the impossibility of escape from the environmental forces of nature, heredity and place shape the characters of the text. A moment of hope arises as Mattie and Ethan walk home together from the dance and a more romantic sense of possibility emerges. The reader is drawn to the love of Ethan and Mattie quite subtly – it grows almost organically from innocent moments shared and this is perhaps why the reader does not see their ‘affair’ as adulterous. We share the hope that glimmers in the bleak cold that is Starkfield and its characters.

Ethan’s sensitivity reflects an important aspect of his character that is shown to us in this section. His intelligence and the study in Worcester has exacerbated his isolation within the Starkfield community. Harmon Gow’s ironic observation that ‘most of the smart one’s got away’ heightens the reader’s perception that Ethan is trapped. The ‘appeal of natural beauty’ suggests a connection with the landscape that is romantic in its conception. Ethan ‘communes’ with the environment and is able to see beyond the harshness in a way that the frame narrator cannot. The fact that he feels this appreciation of beauty as a silent and solitary emotion typifies the lack of communication within his world.

Similarly, the night walks of Mattie and Ethan become moments of ‘communion’. Wharton’s choice of diction suggests that their relationship is more than a response to the physical harshness of the environment or repressed emotions – the ‘sweetness of this communion’ implies a genuine meeting of souls and minds that transcends the physical. The fact that Mattie’s ‘spirit… trembled with the same touch of wonder’ is inspiring for Ethan and the reader is encouraged to view the relationship as one...
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