Ethan Frome Essay

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Ethan Frome is a novel written by Edith Wharton, who based the book on experiences in her personal life. In the book, Ethan falls in love with his wife’s niece –Mattie—who has come to take care of his ill wife –Zeena. The feelings between Ethan and Mattie are mutual even though they both know they cannot be together. Many critics have reviewed Ethan Frome as a depressing love story. Samuel Irving Bellman is one among many of the critics who have mixed emotions about the story. After first reading the novel in 1943, Bellman found it to be flat, unappealing, and unimaginative. He felt the characters were lifeless and hard to imagine as players in a human drama. A major drawback of his is Wharton’s love-hate triangle between Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie. From a positive perspective, “Ethan Frome is important to Wharton’s canon because it represents her confident coming of age as an artist…It has gained its place as a masterpiece of American literature for its style: it is brilliant in its economy, clarity, and structure (Bellman).” Here, he is explaining that Ethan Frome deserves to be a classic for its style, although he is not personally fond of the book. One may agree with Bellman’s positive encouragement of the method of writing, while others may find the text to be over worded. Throughout the story there are many symbols. Wharton seems to have over-used symbolism. The setting –Starkfield—symbolizes isolation and loneliness, but this isolation is also symbolized by Zeena’s hair, the way it is pinned back and confined. Symbolism has even been found within the names of the characters. The origins of the names –Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie—are indicators to the types of characters being portrayed. Overall the story symbolizes the life of the author. Edith Wharton’s own life stands as an example of the obstacles that a woman of her time and place had to

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