The Creature of Nightmare

Topics: Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton, Meaning of life Pages: 5 (1811 words) Published: October 26, 2011
A Phantasmal Reality

The creature of nightmare is an overpowering presence no matter how it is presented. The meaning behind this creature varies depending on the reader. Different perspectives can even illustrate the monster as a force within. However the protagonists execute their relentless tribulations, they will always be doomed to a confined existence. Ethan Frome, for example, recurrently found himself in a state of calamity due to the perpetual obstacles brought on by the menacing creatures in his life. A vision of what could have been a content life seems to be the only source of a genuine existence. This vision is constantly clouded by the harsh facts of reality. The reality of death, of failure, of poverty, of pain, and of imprisonment is too much for any protagonist to surmount. Due to an overbearing reality, a deadly perversion, and a condemning destiny the creature of nightmare will always prevail. Ethan Frome revolves around the tragedy associated with the callous winters, the norms of society, and the hardships of disease. His story of isolation takes place in the desolate town of Starkfield, a name which in itself depicts the harsh living conditions. Ethan and his overbearing wife, Zeena live on a poverty-stricken farm along with Mattie, Ethan’s romantic interest. Zeena is a hypochondriac who burdens Ethan and drives him closer to Mattie. What separates Ethan from Mattie isn't his forbidden love for her, but society's rules. The cycle of illnesses in Ethan's life, due to the disease of others, eventually results in his own complex state of exigency. “Ethan is even described as living in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access"(Wharton 9).The ominous and vindictive monsters of society, disease, and the environment are what ultimately condemn Ethan Frome to a life of seclusion. The monstrous winters in Ethan Frome are a major turbulence that overpowers Ethan to a point of misery. The narrator shows their severity when he says, “I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months’ siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter” (Wharton 8). Although Ethan longs for a brighter world outside, his natural surroundings illustrate his doomed fate in Starkfield. The narrator repeatedly reflects on the ruthless experience of the winters in Starkfield. His encounter with the winter is so impactful that he relates the town to a body of troops forced to surrender in a merciless war. Through his time spent in Starkfield, the narrator comes to understand the townspeople’s true character and how they grow to be so inaccessible from the rest of the world. Winter furthermore overwhelms Ethan, physically, during his sledding debacle that impairs him and Mattie for life. The narrative perspective in the story greatly speculates how Ethan is emotionally suffocated and isolated by the harsh force of winter. Ethan's own feelings for Mattie are unyielding, but society's harsh judgment makes them irresolute. Wharton shows Ethan as “a prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light was to be extinguished"(Wharton 45). Ethan continually finds himself confined by the moral codes of society. Mattie was his only “ray of light” that is unattainable due to his fear of what society would think if he renounced his obligations. He is hindered by what he sees as his responsibilities as a husband and financial predicaments. His low financial status pressures him to remain in a miserable marriage. These poor circumstances push him to acts of desperation that always end defectively and further isolate him. Ethan’s conscience and morally sanctioned state are what restrain him from achieving his romantic yearnings. Ethan’s life is largely characterized by the fact that he spent most of it tending to the feeble and the crippled. When the narrator is asking about Ethan’s life, Harmon Gow responds by saying, ‘Oh, as to that: I guess it's always Ethan done the caring’ (Wharton 7). Physical illness is a...
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