Essay on Ethan Frome
The novel Ethan Frome is a dramatic story based on the love triangle between Ethan, his wife Zeena and their housekeeper Mattie Silver. The novel introduces multiple themes and conflicts throughout its context. Within these themes of love, poverty and isolation, the author introduces three distinct symbols. The outdoors, bedroom and kitchen come to mean much more than originally believed as the novel progresses. These three symbols highlight the major conflicts that arise throughout the novel.
It is no coincidence that the novel takes place in the cold, dreary town of Starkfield, Mass. The word "strake" means bare, desolate and grim; this not only describes the actual town of Starkfield but also the life of Ethan From and the relationship he has with his wife Zeena. Ethan planned on moving from Starkfiled but after the death of his father and illness of his mother he and Zeena were more less settled in the town. It seems as though the landscape holds them back from their dreams. The cold weather represents how bitter the Fromes are toward each other and symbolizes the fact that there is no love between the two of them. The ever present snow in Starkfield represents the cold, drab relationship Ethan and Zeena share because like the snow, it never disappears. Finally, Ethan's actualy farm house is cut off and shunned from the rest of Starkfield He isolates himself because he knows that people in town talk about him and he would rather remain cut off and mysterious.
Many key events of the novel take place in and revolve around objects in the kitchen. The kitchen is unusually warmer that both the outside and other rooms of the house. Because Ethan and Mattie share many moments in the kitchen this warmth represents her vitality, not only in the Frome household but in the entire town of Starkfield. Mattie and Ethan are alone in the kitchen and share their first kiss when Zeena is away in another town. But the objects contained in the kitchen seem to act in Zeena's place while she's gone. Every time Ethan and Mattie get close to one another or their thoughts turn toward each other, the car jumps on Zeena's chair or comes toward one of them. The cat appears to be Zeena and even in her absence would do anything to keep Ethan and Mattie apart. The pickle dish also symbolizes many elements of the story. IT was a gift given to Ethan and Zeena on their wedding day and had been untouched since then. The dish is like their vows in that they were ignored, the dish was placed on the top shelf and they don't honor their vows. The cat, representing Zeena, knocked the dish down in an attempt to scare or separate Ethan and Mattie. When Zeena discovered the dish was broken she was enraged. When you look further into this you can tell she's obviously not mad over the actual broken dish, but for what it actually symbolizes...her broken marriage to Ethan.
Dark and uninviting, the bedroom of Zeena and its contents are the final symbols in the novel. The room is dark at all times which represents the darkness in Zeena's heart. She is upset and bitter toward Ethan because they never moved out of Starkfield. Her heart is torn because she knows how Ethan feels for Mattie. Zeena always stays in her room and sleeps without her husband. This shows her feelings of both isolation and lack of love. Ethan and Mattie also fight in the bedroom. Ethan is agitated because Zeena has hired a new girl to come work for them without first consulting him and now they must let Mattie go. The dreary, dark room shows how there is no love in the marriage.
Overall, there is a plethora of symbolism in Ethan Frome and that helps readers understand the novel and its contents more. The author did an unusually good job in discreetly placing symbols such as a pickle dish and a cat. These seemingly small objects make the story what it is and help shoe the bigger picture of the poverty stricken, dreary, loveless life of Ethan Frome.
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