Name Instructor Class 15 December 2011 Isolation And How It Kills From Within in Ethan Frome People can die from physical and emotional isolation. This is the tragedy of meaningless existence in Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome. Ethan Frome could have had a “better” life, by leaving Starkfield and becoming an engineer, or by running away with Mattie and starting a new life…
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Throughout the novel, isolation defines the plot and the characters' destinies. This essay analyzes the theme of isolation in Ethan Frome. Wharton uses setting, characterization, and symbolism to show how isolation emasculated Ethan Frome and affected his relationship with Mattie and Zeena. The setting of the book is Starkfield, a fictional New England village, which shows how physical isolation has resulted to the emasculation of Ethan Frome. Starkfield is an isolated and cold place, which also affects its small-town culture. It is very far from other cities and it often has harsh cold weather. The weather has become a cold blanket that rules over people's emotions and thoughts. The community is also poor, being constantly cold and poor of resources, which is why Harmon says that it is better if people left the village: “Most of the smart ones get away” (Wharton Chapter 1). The weather and geographical location leave people feeling terribly lonely and hopeless. The sadness and hopelessness in Starkfield have been embodied through several images in the novel. For instance: “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”). ...
In addition, the farm houses can stand for the townspeople. They also feel isolated from each other. Gossip is commonplace, but they rarely show acts of empathy and love toward each other. For example, even they feel sorry for Frome after the “smash-up,” they do not offer him any real empathy. Frome must have felt lonelier after the smash-up, because people “guessed” what he and Mattie wanted to truly do. Moreover, the coldness of their environment spills over people's hopes and freezes their ability to dream and pursue their dreams. Ethan once wanted to be an engineer, but because of lack of social and financial support, he did not become one anymore. He also has to take care of his mother. Then, he dreams of being with Mattie, but due to his poverty and the problem of being “judged” by his society, he does not leave Zeena. Ethan wants an easier way out instead of facing poverty and ridicule, but this dream is snatched from him too. The setting also evokes a fairy tale escape and simplification of characters and their isolation. Ammons argues that Ethan Frome can be viewed as a fairy tale, because the novel contains the archetypes of “the witch, the silvery maiden, the honest woodcutter” (Ammons 48). She compares Ethan Frome to Snow White, where Zeena is the witch, Mattie is the silvery maiden, and Ethan is the honest woodcutter. Zeena is the witch, because she is the selfish villain who wants to be Ethan's queen, even when Ethan no longer loves her. Zeena will do everything she can to keep Ethan from leaving her and Starkfield. One of her ways is being constantly sick. If she is sick, Ethan will remember what she did for his mother. She uses Ethan's indebtedness to her to force him into living with her, if not loving her. Another
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