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Imagery in Ethan Frome

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Imagery in Ethan Frome

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Ethan Frome, the title character of the novel by Edith Warton, lives in a world that constrains him; one that he is unable to escape from. The prominent use of winter imagery throughout this novel conveys this ideas of detachment and isolation. Winters in Starkfield, the setting for this story, are ones of unimaginable length and vigor. In the prologue, the narrator notices, "(…) when the storms of February had pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of March winds had charged down to their support; I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months' siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter." This demonstrates very clearly the effects of winter on Starkfield, likening it to a war, and shows how it inevitably cripples all those who suffer through it.

Ethan is no exception to the incapacitating strength of winter, one citizen remarking that he had "been in Starkfield too many winters." The narrator described him as, "a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface." This clearly shows how Ethan's circumstances have hardened him into a shell of a person and how despite his fighting, the winter has consumed him completely. This cold, overbearing force of nature directly reflects Ethan's own overbearing force in his personal life, Zeena. After his mother dies one winter, Ethan attaches himself to Zeena to ease his longing for warmth and compassion and to assure he doesn't spend the winter alone. Our first portrayal of Zeena describes her as "tall and angular" with a "flat breast", "puckered throat" and "projecting wrist"; a harsh depiction akin to that of the previous portrayal of winter. We see this same comparison in the way the couple interacts with each other, that is, with a sense of indifference and hostility. Winter is also a barren season, one that brings no life and instead destroys it. The...