Ethan Frome, Tragic Hero

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The novel Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, is a tale of a man and the eventual downfall of his life and well-being. Ethan emerges as the main protagonist and hero of the story. He is a proud man of tall stature and good nature. Although Ethan is not of noble blood and is very poor, he is still seen as a hero. Starkfield looks on Mr. Frome in tacit respect. As a young man, it looked as if Ethan would escape the dullness of the small Massachusetts town. However, when his parents became ill, Ethan showed unyielding care and gave up his life to prolong his parents’. The town looks on as Ethan’s love for his parents slowly drags him towards poverty. The novel begins with Ethan living a meager life married to Zeena, but he still manages to have a high set of morals and self dignity. Ethan, however, is not without one tragic flaw in his character. It is this flaw, a lack of judgement, which leads to his downfall at the end of the novel.

From the beginning of the novel, it can be seen that Ethan is very unhappy with his marriage to Zeena. She seems to bar the way for Ethan’s success in life. It is apparent that Ethan greatly resents Zeena, but his self-righteousness prevents him from leaving her. Ethan becomes very frustrated by her illness and the rude disposition Zeena is always in: All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others. (Wharton 107) Ethan disregards his wife’s medical condition, and lacks the judgment to avoid the impending argument with Zeena over Mattie. At this point the reader is aware that Zeena is very suspicious of Mattie and Ethan’s interactions.

Ethan’s poor judgment boils down to his longing for Mattie. Ethan is a married man, and despite the fact that he is unhappy he...
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