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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is a story about a man named Ethan and his life story. Edith Wharton helps create a very vivid picture of the events that go on in the book. She helped create this picture through irony, characterization, and the attitude of man versus himself.
Edith Wharton wrote Ethan Frome in 1911. Wharton was an American author who wrote in the early 20th century. Her most popular work was Ethan Frome. She was brought up in a wealthy family and had the perspective of an upper class person. Many of her stories show the contrasts of traditional values and the degeneration of these values from generation to generation. Edith Wharton was a very talented author and had an excellent perspective on life.
Ethan Frome is from Starkfield, Massachusetts, a small New England village. In the beginning, Ethan meets up with a man whose work has brought him to Starkfield. This man had previously seen Ethan and thought a lot of him. Even then he was the most striking character in Starkfield, though he was but the ruin of a man (Wharton 1). The people in the village see Ethan as awkward or strange but they also are somewhat amazed by him. There is a certain quality about him that interests people. He is a very quiet man and very seldom comes out in public. As Ethan and this man are talking, they realize a bad winter storm is approaching. Ethan offers the man a place to stay, which was very unusual, because no one had been to the Frome s house in over 20 years. Once the guy gets to the house, the true story of Ethan Frome begins to unfold.
Ethan is married to a woman named Zeena who is always sick and cannot do much on her own. The Frome s are very poor. Zeena started out taking care of Ethan s mother but once she died Zeena became sick. When Zeena could not care for herself, her beautiful young cousin, Mattie, came to stay. While Mattie was there, she and Ethan began to fall in love. Mattie was young and bright and did not do a good job at the housework. Because of this, Zeena decided to ask Ethan to get her a hired girl.
Ethan was very upset when Zeena requested her cousin leave. Mattie became very distraught at the thought of her having to leave. She and Ethan cared a great deal for each other and when it was time for her to go, Ethan insisted on taking her to the train station. This was one of the only times he ever went against his wife s wishes.
During their ride, Mattie and Ethan stopped at Shadow Pond. This was where they had first started liking each other. After they left Shadow Pond, they went to the hill with the Big Elm. This was a very dangerous slope to go down and many people were killed going down it. Mattie insisted on Ethan taking her down, and they made it down the first time with no problems. They were able to avoid the Big Elm. As they were coming back up the hill, they began to realize how much they really wanted to be together. In order for them to be together, they decided they would attempt suicide. They were going to take a second run down the slope and maybe this time they would hit the Big Elm.
All of this leads up to the conclusion. Ethan and Mattie were both injured in the crash but neither of them was killed. This is why Ethan was described the way he was in the beginning. The crash changed his looks and Mattie was paralyzed. She is living with the Frome family, and Zeena is taking care of both Ethan and Mattie in the end of the book. She had overcome her sickness and now becomes the caretaker. Ethan and Mattie are no longer in love and he is still married to Zeena.
The story of Ethan Frome is written as a flashback. Wharton used In Media Res. The story started out in present tense when Ethan runs into a man. The story begins to unfold as Ethan starts telling the man his extremely interesting story.
In the beginning, there are several things told about Ethan and his life. The views of the people are stated, and the way people look upon him is stated. They see him as a crippled man who was once a strong well-known figure. The use of flashbacks explains why he is crippled and why people have changed their views about him.
In the flashback, Zeena was always very sick. She was visiting doctors and people always felt sorry for her. She had everyone s pity. Mattie was there to help take care of her and help with the household chores. Once the flashback is over and it is back in the present, the irony comes out. After Ethan and Mattie crashed, Zeena is no longer sick. She has overcome her illness and is once again caring for the sick.
In the story, Zeena was the most interesting character. She first came to the Frome family to take care of Ethan s mother. She was only 35 but looked much older. She was caring and had great knowledge of medicine when she first came. After the death of Ethan s mother, Zeena became ill. I think she turned to illness as a way to stay in contact with the community and the outside world. The Frome s had always been quiet and stayed out of the public and Zeena used her sickness as a way to be seen in the public.
Although Zeena claimed to be ill, in reality she was just making herself ill. Zeena had always been what Starkfield called sickly, and Frome had to admit that, if she were as ailing as she believed, she needed the help of a stronger arm than the one which lay so lightly in his during the night walks to the farm (Wharton 35). The arm he was referring to was Mattie Silver s. Mattie came to take care of Zeena. Zeena was constantly complaining and never satisfied with anything. She did nothing for herself or anyone else. I believe if Zeena was as ill as she claimed she would have hired someone with more experience than Mattie.
Once the story is back in present tense, irony is seen. In the crash, Ethan and Mattie were both seriously injured. Zeena was all of a sudden well and now she is the one taking care of them. This was very ironic. She went from an ill, old housewife to a healthy woman taking care of her husband and disabled cousin. In the flashback, Zeena was the one complaining, now Mattie is the one complaining. This was a great example of irony of the situation. Zeena s character completely turned around and was doing the opposite.
Man versus himself and his conscience was greatly seen in this story. Irony was seen through this. Ethan constantly fought with himself and his true feelings. He usually did what man wanted him to do and he never got to express himself. Everyone bossed him around and he did nothing about it. He was a weak man and there were very few times he ever stood up for himself.
When the book started, Ethan met Zeena and she was taking care of his ill mother. After his mother died, Zeena and Ethan were married. I think Ethan felt obligated to marry Zeena. He never loved her, but because she had stayed with his mother for so long he felt he had too. I believe that this was a case of man versus his conscience and the conscience won. He went with what he thought he had to do, not what he wanted to do.
Zeena was always the boss of the family. She told Ethan what to do and he always listened. He did not want to, but he always did because he felt he had to. I think he felt like he was imprisoned by the way she treated him and he was afraid to try and change. He was constantly fighting with himself and the right decisions. Once again the conscience won.
Ethan fell in love with Mattie when she came to stay. Her bright, cheery, young face was the only thing that brought him happiness. When Zeena tried to take Mattie away, Ethan became very upset. She was taking away the one thing that he looked forward to every day. In the book, I think this was one of the two times he ever went against what someone else wanted him to do. Zeena had planned for Jotham Powell, a worker on the farm, to take Mattie to the station, because she wanted Ethan to stay and fix up the new hired girl s room but Ethan had other plans. He decided to stand up for himself. As soon as Zeena stated what she wanted, Ethan replied curtly I m going to drive her over myself (Wharton 149). This is one of the few times Ethan stated what he wanted and got it.
When Ethan and Mattie are out on the hill, Ethan was trying to fight his true feelings and just leave but he could not. Mattie and he decided to try and commit suicide so they could be together forever. He won the battle of man versus himself because he went with his heart but in reality he lost. As he and Mattie attempted suicide, they both failed. The irony was that Mattie became paralyzed and completely disabled and Ethan was crippled. Ethan took away everything Mattie had when he agreed to try and commit suicide. If he had listened to his wife and let Jotham take Mattie, this would not have happened. Jotham would have taken her to the station and she would have more than likely got there safely. Because of what they both chose to do, only Mattie was really hurt by the situation. Things did not turn out as planned. Mattie continued to live with the Frome s but she and Ethan were no longer in love. Ethan stayed married to Zeena and continued on with the rest of his life. I think Ethan was still fighting the battle of man versus himself at the end of the story. I don t think he was still in love with Mattie and I know he doesn t love Zeena. I think he wants to leave both of them but knows he doesn t have the money or the strength to do it. He is once again doing what he feels he is obligated to do and not what he wants to do.
Ethan Frome s story was told in a very interesting way. Many good points came out while I was reading it. The three main things I noticed were irony, her portrayal of certain characters, and the attitude of man versus himself. The intriguing plot and the suspense of the book made it interesting and easy to read. It was a great story and I learned a lot from it.
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