Name Instructor Class September 7, 2011 Ethan and Mattie: Transformations toward Death Edith Wharton describes the excruciating possibility of living and dying at the same time in her novel “Ethan Frome.” This essay explores how Ethan and Mattie change as individuals because of a sudden twist in their lives…
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Ethan and Mattie have had misfortune tarnishing their happiness many times over, but they would not have been so unlucky if only they lived in a less isolated place. Ethan has had the misfortune of looking after his family and then Zeena. Life has made him an eternal caretaker of others to the point that he surrenders his own happiness. The ease of selflessness, nevertheless, is easier in a state of seclusion. Starkfield is a sheltered place, which is also a metaphor for its small-town culture. Because of its distance from cities and harsh weather, it does not readily embrace industrialisation and liberalisation. The narrator describes the vast coldness in Starkfield and the feelings of enclosure and loneliness it casts to all its residents: “Beyond the orchard lay a field or two...huddled against the white immensities of land and sky, one of those lonely New England farm-houses that make the landscape lonelier (Wharton “Ethan”). The farm houses are like the people; they act indifferent to each other, even when they may gossip about each other a great deal. More so, an overwhelming feeling of inertia shades them all. The cold makes them resistant to sharp cultural changes. Wharton also uses the image of an isolated setting to describe how it feels to be detached from meaningful relationships. Ethan, upon knowing that Mattie will be gone soon, hates to think of going back to the “normal” days of being with a querulous woman like his wife. Devoid of Mattie, his life will be colder with or without winter. This could be the primary reason why Ethan is also eager to help the narrator in the latter’s travels. He needs another human connection utterly badly that a stranger’s silent company would suffice. Understandably, during one of the worst winter nights, Ethan asks the engineer to stay. It as if he is pleading also for some change to enter his life, no matter how insignificant it is, if only to reduce the coldness of his being. Mattie also loses everything when her parents died and becomes a household help for Zeena. To make matters worse, she falls in love with Ethan, which is hard for them both, since their culture prizes caring for the family, even when it means sacrificing one’s own happiness. Harmon Gow tells the engineer: “Somebody had to stay and care for the folks... guess it's always Ethan done the caring” (Wharton “Ethan”). Hence, physical isolation and its conservative culture solidify the dire future for Ethan and Mattie. Ethan and Mattie change from being sure of their identities to losing that because of helplessness. Ethan has once personally managed the farm and the saw mill almost entirely by himself, because he is young and strong. After the smash-up, Wharton uses changes in physical appearance to demonstrate internal changes within Ethan and Mattie. Before the accident, Ethan cared for his physical form. Even Zeena noticed that he suddenly shaved “every morning” since Mattie came (Wharton 1). After the accident, he looks like “the ruin of a man” (Wharton “Ethan”). This imagery represents the death of his inner self. Mattie bursts with vibrancy and she exudes freshness and life when she dances: “...The face she lifted to her dancers was the same which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset....”
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