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Book of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton - Essay Example

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Name Instructor Class 23 November 2011 Isolation: The Emasculation of Ethan Frome The living can be dead and alive at the same time. This is the crux of the tragedy in Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome. Ethan Frome could have had a “better” life, where he could have been an engineer and left Starkfield…
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Book of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Download file to see previous pages... Wharton uses setting, characterization, and symbolism to depict how isolation has emasculated Ethan Frome. The setting of the book is Starkfield, a fictional New England village, which depicts isolation's impact of emasculation on Ethan Frome. Starkfield is an isolated and cold place, which also shapes its small-town culture. It is quite distant from other cities and constantly experiences harsh, cold weather. The weather resembles a cold blanket that hangs on people's attitudes toward life. The community is also poor, which is why Harmon believes that those who get away from Starkfield are better off: “Most of the smart ones get away” (Wharton Chapter 1). The weather and geographical location can get under people's skin, as they make it easier to feel lonely and hopeless. One description of the setting highlights the sadness and hopelessness of Starkfield: “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 whiteness of the field makes the isolation even more immense, where white means nothingness and the absence of color stands for the absence of life. In addition, the farm houses can be compared to the townspeople. They also feel isolated from each other. They may gossip about one other a great deal, but they are detached from truly doing something for each other. For instance, people feel sorry for Frome after the “smash-up,” but they do not offer him any real empathy. Frome must have felt lonelier, because of the lack of human connection that would help him make sense of his tragic life and provide better companionship than what Zeena can offer. Furthermore, the coldness of the setting seeps into people's hopes, by freezing their dreams. Ethan once dreamed to be an engineer, but because of lack of social and financial support, he did not become one anymore. Then, he dreams of being with Mattie, but because of his poverty, which can be rooted to the land's barrenness and the moral thinking that it would be wrong to leave Zeena, he does not fight for his love for Mattie. The ending shows that he becomes colder as a person, who is no longer capable of happiness. Ethan Frome is a dynamic character, who changed from an ambitious dreamer to a caregiver to the doomed “patient.” Before, Frome envisions himself as an engineer, which is why he is interested in the engineer's books. Later on, because his family is detached from family relations, he has become the primary caregiver to his parents. Harmon affirms this and says: “I guess it's always Ethan done the caring” (Wharton 1). Instead of breaking free from Starkfield, he becomes increasingly bonded to it, especially after marrying Zeena. When Zeena got sick, Frome finds himself the carer once more. In addition, Wharton shows that the setting is Ethan Frome itself, where he is “an incarnation of the land’s frozen woe with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface” (Wharton 1). Carroll stresses that Ethan is as “mute and melancholic” as Starkfield, as if he is “one of the outcroppings of slate that push up through the snow” (2). He is like a slate, especially when he realizes the reversal of gender roles in his marriage. Zeena undermines Ethan's masculinity by constantly siphoning his money and time. Ethan re-establishes his manhood with Mattie, however, since the latter ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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