Ethan Frome - Motifs and Symbols

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Ethan Frome – Motifs and Symbols A motif is an distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition. Whereas a symbol is a material representation of an abstract idea. In literature, motifs and symbols often play an important role in the outcome of a story. Ethan Frome, a novel written by Edith Wharton, is an excellent example of this relationship. Several motifs and symbols present in the novel influence Ethan Frome and alters him to a condition that represents his failed attempt to fulfill his dreams. Winter changes Ethan in various ways; whilst fate controls Ethan’s life in spite of his efforts to overcome it, while technology interferes with Ethan’s attempt to accomplish his dreams. Motifs and symbols, such as winter, fate, and technology all act as obstacles that prevent Ethan from realizing his dreams. Winter is a major motif that oppresses Ethan’s spirit, yet ironically, it is a reflection of Ethan’s feelings. Furthermore, winter is one of the foremost reasons of Ethan’s present circumstances. Winter has devastated Ethan. He changes from a healthy, hopeful youth, with dreams and ambitions, to a crippled and miserable old man. “He’s been in Starkfield too many winters” ( Wharton 13). Starkfield’s winters are capable of trapping its citizens because of their ability to emotionally burden individuals to the point that they lose their dreams in their struggle to survive. If Starkfield’s winters were more mild, Ethan might have had enough determination to leave Starkfield. Similarly, Ethan asks Zeena to stay, for he does not want to spend another winter in silence and isolation. Despite that, Ethan regrets marrying Zeena, and wonders what would have happened instead if his mother had died in spring. When he saw her preparing to go away, he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on the farm; and … he had asked her to
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