How does Wharton use setting, imagery and symbols in the novel Ethan Frome?

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How does Wharton use setting, imagery and symbols in the novel ‘Ethan Frome’?


Ethan Frome is a remarkable novel written by Edith Wharton in 1911.  An unnamed narrator, who has come to Starkfield, Massachusetts, on a business trip, narrates the story. He recounts the events that had taken place 24 years ago through various sources such his neighbor and through his imagination, and comes across a very intriguing stories related to the main characters, Ethan, Zeena and Mattie. Through this essay I will make an attempt to show how setting, imagery and symbols have been employed by Wharton to make her novel look very realistic and interesting.

Starkfield is a place that remains covered in snow all the year round. It is shown by Wharton as a rough place that lies “under a sheet of snow perpetually renewed from the pale skies.” the narrator too observes, "when the storms of February had pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of March winds had charged down to their support; I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months' siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter." thus the setting of the village has been given the look of a war-sieged town. The place is too cold, and its bitter winters affect the health of Ethan's wife Zeena. The setting of the place entombs Ethan to Starkfield where there is no escape, as he is stuck up to his farm all the year round, without any money and without any prospects for the future. The farmhouse of the Fromes is also set by Wharton with a tinge of peculiarity. The building of the farmhouse has lost its “L”, the deep section of the building.  The setting of the farmhouse also serves a barrier in the life of Ethan, as the absence of this roof further cuts him from the outside.

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It can be observed that Ethan Frome is as cold and inaccessible as the frozen landscape of Starkfield around him. Through the mouth piece of the narrator Edith Wharton creates a beautiful and thrilling imagery of the cold and isolated Starkfield. The image of Starkfield where Ethan has been “too many winters” creates a deep and crystal clear impact on the mind of the reader as how difficult a place it is for a resident or native to live in. The narrator observes that Ethan “seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen ...

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