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Ethan Frome is characterised by

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Ethan Frome is characterised by "its unyielding and shocking pessimism, its bleak demonstration of tragic waste." To what extent is this true of the novel? Edith Wharton has succeeded in creating a place, which by its very name, is isolated and desolate - a "mute melancholy landscape", which unrelentingly consumes those within, preventing them from ever escaping its grasp. Furthermore, Wharton's novel delves into the human psyche, to give a glimpse of manipulation and entrapment. The prevailing mood is continually bleak and tragic, with only brief interludes of hope and romance, which are quickly ruined. Indeed, the main characters are often portrayed as victims; of their life, destiny and of their harsh surroundings. The structure of Wharton's novel helps to establish the mood and atmosphere. The non-linear narrative gives the reader a glimpse of the tragedy that is soon to follow. At the beginning of the book, Ethan Frome is shown as a suffering "ruin of a man", struggling against his disability, emphasising the tragic qualities of the novel. Moreover, Wharton uses tragic foreshadowing to inform us that something will inevitably and tragically cripple the main character. This knowledge creates a pessimistic mood, constantly pre-empting the upcoming catastrophe that will forever alter Ethan Frome's life. Additionally, the attempted suicide, the "smash up", is mentioned three times in the prologue, further indicating tragedy. The juxtaposition of Ethan Frome in the past (when he was fit, healthy and dignified), and in the future (when he was crippled, and only a diminished memory of his former self), predicts the forthcoming tragedy, and illustrates the affect it will have upon Ethan. ...read more.


Zeena denies him any happiness, and plays on her illness to get Ethan to carry out her errands. Also, it is Ethan's own personality, full of goodwill, honesty and loyalty which traps him in this union, preventing him from ever escaping. His moment of "compassion", causes him sympathy for Zeena, and he feels it hard to break free from her clutches - Ethan faces "oppression" every single day. Again, it is his own righteousness and decency, which prevents him from abandoning Zeena and having an affair with Mattie. However Ethan's morality is tested by his continuing feelings for Mattie; this passion is a dent in his integrity. Moreover it seems that everything in his surroundings prevent him from ever escaping and realising his dreams. It seems that it is Ethan's destiny to stay in this god-forsaken hell and never fulfil his wasted potential. For example the setting of isolated Starkfield keeps him from his studies and the lifestyle he desperately craves. The insular and restrictive ways of the villagers, scorn his love and happiness with Mattie and stop him from living his life how he would wish. If it hadn't of been for his surroundings, Ethan might have had the strength to break free and make something of his life, everything has "barred his way". This prevention could be seen as a form of tragic foreshadowing, as it is inevitable that Ethan's life will end in tragedy, as he is constantly impeded from his hopes and dreams. ...read more.


Wharton could merely be trying to communicate to the World the harshness of New England life (and maybe the harshness of life in general), which "portrays her own personal situation"2. Wharton was indeed once an inhabitant of a similar village, and this novel may been based upon her former life. It may even be said that Zeena may correspond to her own manipulative cruel spouse, at the hands of whom "she had suffered for many years"3. Wharton may also have tried to convey the idea of a fatalist World, one which prevents happiness and people from living their dreams. Some might argue that Wharton is trying to say that deception of a spouse may lead to punishment and moral demise. Indeed, Ethan does wish for an affair, which is immoral, and Ethan Frome's crippled figure may represent Wharton's crippled and guilty conscience, for she too indulged in an affair. Whatever the writer's purpose, it is clear that the novel does show an unyielding attitude of pessimism. The mood is predominantly bleak and harsh. The novel describes the tragic devastation caused by the harshness of the land, setting and people. Finally, it can be said that Wharton's melancholy and disheartening novel communicates a story of life-long suffering and the bitterness incurred through this tragic life. 1 As described by Wharton in her memoirs - A Backward Glance 2 Credited to R.W.B Lewis, Wharton's biographer. Taken from; Edith Wharton: A Biography 3 Quoted from Elaine Showalter, a novel critic. LUKE SNELL ENGLISH COURSEWORK ...read more.

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