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Symbology in Ethan Frome

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:28 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 67.3 
  • Words: 335
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In much the same way as Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton sets her themes on isolation, despair, hopelessness, and bad relationships.   She does this with a poetic flair that belies her work in that genre.   Winter is used to show the bleaness and the unforgiving nature of the elements.   For example, "Here the snow was so pure that the tiny tracks of wood-animals had left on it intricate lace-like patterns, and the bluish cones caught in its surface

stood oout like ornaments of bronze."  

Wharton's contrast of lighting and darkness, bright and dull, beauty and ugliness is carried throughout Ehtan Frome.   The choice of Starkfield shows the reader that the town and country are isolated and cold and, as we learn early on from the narrator, so are the people.   "One would have supposed that such an atmosphere must quicken the emotions as well as the blood; but it seemed to produce no change except that of still retarding still more

the sluggish pulse of Starkfield."   Interestingly the names Wharton chose also reflected the contrast of the characters.   Zeena or Zenobia was a queen of Sicily who rather took charge with domineering control during the Roman days.   Likewise, Ethan's wife Zeena is th domineering influence.   Thinking of Cleopatra as a Queen, the cat is a perfect extension.   Frome is a condensed version of "frozen home."     Likewise, Matty Silver is fine and bright.

The choice of these names appears to be no accident, when one considers that Wharton spent much of her life abroad.

Much may be garnered from the scene of the pickle dish.   It is red in the way many rich, passionate things in literature are red. This was quite true since Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter.   When it breaks, it is as though reality has broken through the dreamworld of Ethan and he knows that what he wishes will never be.   Moreover, it is a foreshadowing of the smash-up on the hill.


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