Imagery in Ethan Frome Essay Example
Imagery in Ethan Frome Essay Example

Imagery in Ethan Frome Essay Example

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  • Pages: 3 (788 words)
  • Published: March 23, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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Ethan Frome, the protagonist of Edith Warton's novel, resides in a world that restricts him, making it impossible for him to break free. The constant presence of winter symbols in this book portrays the themes of disconnection and solitude. The winters endured in Starkfield, where the story takes place, are exceptionally lengthy and intense.

The narrator in the prologue observes that when the February storms arrived and the March winds joined in, Starkfield resembled a village under attack. This comparison of winter to warfare highlights the severe impact it has on the town and its inhabitants.

Ethan is not exempt from the overpowering strength of winter. One citizen mentioned that he had experienced "too many winters in Starkfield." The narrator depicted him as a part of the desolate and sorrowful scenery, embodying its frozen misery, with all his warmth


and emotions trapped beneath the surface. This clearly illustrates how Ethan's situation has made him emotionally numb and how, despite his struggle, winter has completely engulfed him. The chilling and overwhelming power of nature directly mirrors Ethan's own domineering presence in his personal life, Zeena.

After the death of his mother in winter, Ethan becomes attached to Zeena in order to alleviate his longing for warmth and compassion and to ensure that he is not left alone during the winter months. When we are first introduced to Zeena, she is described as "tall and angular" with a "flat breast", "puckered throat" and "projecting wrist"; a harsh description similar to the previous depiction of winter. This comparison can also be seen in the way the couple interacts with each other, displaying indifference and hostility. Like winter, their relationship is barren

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devoid of life and destructive.

The marriage between Ethan and Zeena is unproductive, as they have no children. However, Mattie brings liveliness to their barren union, much like the springtime. Mattie is often compared to nature, with her mind resembling a bird in the branches and her hair like certain mosses on warm slopes. Yet, even in the moments they share, the coldness of winter and the presence of Zeena constantly loom over them. Winter and spring, or in this case Zeena and Mattie, are opposing forces that affect not only each other but also Ethan. This reaches its climax when Ethan considers leaving with Mattie. As he gazes at the bright slopes and the dark woods with silver edges, as well as the hills with a spectral purple against the sky, he feels as though all the night's beauty is there to taunt his misery. This line is particularly powerful as it combines Zeena's wintry strength and sadness with the undeniable beauty that Mattie brings into Ethan's life. Ethan finds himself at a crossroads, torn between these two forces that coexist somewhat peacefully yet pull him in opposite directions.

The night's beauty, reflected through the snow, serves as a strong reminder of Ethan's entrapment. Another use of winter imagery occurs during Ethan and Mattie's trip together, which includes an attempted suicide. As they make their way to the train station, they make a detour to a small beach where they had shared a moment before. Upon arrival, Ethan immediately observes the impact of winter on their "secret spot". He scans the pebbly beach until he spots a fallen tree-trunk partially submerged in snow. This tree-trunk marks

the spot where they had happily sat together the previous summer for a picnic, but now it's completely covered in snow, overshadowed by Zeena's threatening presence. Despite this momentary acknowledgment, Ethan quickly moves on to other thoughts, showing his familiarity with the power of winter. The transformation of a once vibrant place into a desolate and bleak one seems to have little effect on him. After briefly recalling this shared memory, they return to the cart to continue their journey.

The two characters have a heartfelt moment, expressing their love and desperation, before coming across some children sledding. Taking turns sledding themselves, Mattie insists that Ethan take them down a hill to the coast, hoping to avoid their problems forever. This symbolizes how participating in a winter activity ultimately leads to their downfall, which aligns with the prologue's ideas and adds an element of dramatic irony for the reader. As they approach the elm tree, Ethan remembers Zeena's face and swerves off course, causing their plan to fail. Zeena's face appears distorted and monstrous, merging with the damaged elm tree influenced by winter. Ultimately, all three main characters must surrender to the forces of the harsh Starkfield winters, both symbolically and literally. Despite their attempts to escape their constraints, they are unable to avoid the inevitable changing of seasons.

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