Characterism And Symbolism In Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

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Ethan Frome, the titular character, has lived a very lamentable life, beginning with the injury and death of his father. This was then followed by the mental deterioration and death of his mother, which left Ethan with no one but Zeena, the woman who took care of his ailing mother. Afraid of being alone during the dreadful Starkfield winter, Ethan asked Zeena to marry him, even though he did not love her. Years later, Zeena’s cousin Mattie Silver came to live with the Fromes after her father’s death, and Ethan realized he loved Mattie, even though he was still married to Zeena. In Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton uses symbolism to create sympathy for Ethan and Mattie, and a distasteful feeling toward Zeena. Thus, though Ethan’s responsibility lies …show more content…
Her name is synonymous with rare and beautiful moments in nature, showing how rare and beautiful she is, especially in a town like Starkfield. Her personality can be described as jovial and innocent; she admires Ethan and understands his love of nature. Because of their shared interest in nature, most of her descriptions involve something from nature, showing that Ethan’s love for nature equated his love for Mattie. On Mattie’s last day, in an attempt to avoid Zeena, Ethan went out to town. While he was travelling, he realized “every yard of the road was alive with Mattie’s presence, and there was hardly a branch against the sky or a tangle of brambles on the bank in which some bright shred of memory was not caught...the call of the bird in the mountain ash was so like her laughter that his heart tightened and then grew large; and all these things made him see that something must be done at once” (53). By using nature to symbolize Mattie, Wharton makes it known that Ethan’s feelings for her cannot be discouraged and that everything he sees will remind him of her and the times they spent …show more content…
Its red color is an allusion to Mattie and the fact that it is “the one thing [Zeena] cared for most of all” (48), establishes it as a symbol for Ethan or the relationship between Ethan and Zeena. At the same time, it could represent Mattie and Ethan’s relationship. Just as Zeena refused to take the dish out of the cupboard and christened herself the only person who could touch or look at it, Mattie was willing to use it for food when Zeena was not around. The shattering of the dish could symbolize the end of Ethan and Zeena’s relationship, seen as she “[gathered] up the bits of broken glass [and] went out of the room as if she carried a dead body” (48). If the pickle dish is indeed a symbol for Ethan or Ethan and Zeena’s relationship, then the above scene humanizes her and could elicit sympathy for her. However, if it is indeed just a pickle dish, then Zeena is further established as a self-centered materialistic individual who cares only for what she

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