Setting In Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

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In literature the setting can drastically influence the plot and characters involved in the story. For certain novels a warm, bright setting such as Florida can make the story more lively and the characters seem just as active. However in a cold setting, the plot can be slow and the lives of the people in that setting at times seem miserable. This is the case for Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome which takes place in Starkfield, Massachusetts. The start of the novel introduces Starkfield's main attraction, the post office. "If you know Starkfield, Massachusetts, you know the post office" (Wharton 181). If a town's main attraction is the post office, typically it symbolizes that Starkfield is a small town. The narrator is enthralled with a man from…show more content…
Ethan had a chance to leave Starkfield, in fact in the past he had taken a course in technological college. This was a man who had an ambition but was brought back to Starkfield because of his father's death. The narrator also states, "He wanted to be an engineer, and to live in towns, where there were lectures and big libraries and "fellows doing big things" (Wharton 199). Wharton's emphasis on the cold environment leaves the reader with a sense hopelessness for Ethan Frome. A quote from Ethan really captures the essence on the impact of Starkfield's climate, "That's so. It is a powerful cold down here," (Wharton 195). It's a short statement but it tells the reader a lot about how Ethan felt about this landscape. The way the word 'powerful' is used to describe the impact of the cold could inspire one to think that maybe the weather has more of a psychological effect than an actual physical effect. Ethan found himself content in…show more content…
His marriage with Zeena was timid at best, the narrator tells of Ethan "At other times, looking at Zeena's shut face. he felt the chill of such forebodings" (Wharton 199). This is clearly not a good situation for Ethan, stuck in a town where the weather has an impact on his very soul as well as a marriage not built on love. Ethan however does find solitude with Zeena's cousin Mattie Silver and even has hopes again of leaving Starkfield. He writes. "Zeena, I've done all I could for you, and I don't see as it's been any use. I don't blame you, nor do I blame myself. Maybe both of us would do better separate. I'm going to try my luck West, and you can sell the farm and keep the money-" (Wharton 216). But Ethan refrains from giving her this letter, he was willing to let her have the farm he spent his entire life taking care of, just so he can leave Starkfield. The narrator describes the very essence of Ethan's existence, "He was a prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light was to be extinguished." (Wharton 216). He wanted to head West with Mattie, however he had neither money or the courage to leave. Perhaps Ethan's final attempt at leaving Starkfield was when he and Mattie believed that all was lost in the life they were trying to live, and attempted suicide. The ultimate indicator of loneliness and despair. Even in his last attempt at finally escaping Starkfield, he failed. He and Mattie

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