Essay on Wharton's Ethan Frome: Absence of Light and Life

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Absence of Light and Life in Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton is set in Starkfield, a small community plagued by harsh winters that seem to ebb away at life. In this town lives Ethan Frome, a crippled man who seems to be the physical embodiment of mortal suffering. An new arrival to the town, is drawn by Ethan. He is compelled to uncover the story behind the enigmatic man. What he discovers is a tragic tale of human suffering, an excellent example of tragic irony.

Ethan was married to a cold complaining woman named Zenobia, nicknamed Zeena. His only joy in life was Zeena's younger cousin Mattie Silver, who stays with them as help for Zeena in her illness. Ethan grows to love Mattie. When Mattie is forced to leave by
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All the imagery associated with Mattie and Zeena have been carefully placed by Mrs. Wharton in order to add depth to the story. Mrs. Wharton however does not use it in abundance. The references cited below are most examples of imagery in the entire novel. Mrs. Wharton is very austere with description. So when a piece of very descriptive imagery is inserted, it has special significance and importance.

As previously stated imagery concerning Mattie is very warm and summer-like. Mattie's face seems to Ethan like "a window that has caught the sunset". Her effect on Ethan was likened to " spring rills in a thaw". Mattie's mood changes were, to Ethan "the flit of a bird in the branches.". When Ethan puts his arm around Mattie when they are walking home it seemed that they "were floating on a summer stream." When Mattie tells Ethan that she would never want to leave his house, "The iron heavens seemed to melt and rain down sweetness."

The imagery regarding Zeena, however is much less flattering and even morbid. Zeena opens the door to them and our first physical description of her shows her to be tall and angular, flat breasted, with a puckered throat and a high boned face. Contrasted with Ethan's favorable description of Mattie the following evening it shows how much more Mattie appealed to Ethan than Zeena did.

When Ethan and Mattie returned to the house after their walk home, the first sight that greeted them
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