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Rated: E · Essay · Research · #1866135
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You can use weather to symbolize things such as emotions. Sunny, warm weather can indicate happy emotions while dark, cold weather can indicate sadness or death. Along with weather a scenery or setting can symbolize characters feelings. In Ethan Frome Edith Wharton uses the setting as a mirror for the characters’ emotions to demonstrate that acting out of obligation instead of desire in certain situations will only lead to destruction and unhappiness.

The scenery throughout the book is dark, barren, and cold, much like Ethan and Zeena’s marriage. The Fromes’ live in a typical New England farm house, isolated from neighbors and the local village. Their house is old and beaten down, walking up the front path there is a small family cemetery off to the side (Mine 129) which Ethan fears he will end up in if he does not leave Starkfield. Ethan’s home is a sign of misery. The house is falling down and is wearing just like the people living inside (Wharton 10). To the back of the beaten down house is an equally run down old mill and horse stable that is bringing hardly any money to support Ethan and Zeena.

Marrying Zeena was similar to imprisonment for Ethan and he imagines marrying Mattie is equaled to freedom and happiness. The isolated farm acts like a prison as it is totally cut off from their local village where Mattie goes for church dances to socialize and possibly find a husband (Fryer 159). The only source of hope seems to be Mattie who brought vitality, light, and cheerfulness to the cold farm. If the farm was not already oppressive and prison life before, after the accident Mattie becomes a replica of Zeena, but Zeena mostly overcomes her “sickness” and becomes more like Mattie (Wharton 71). She takes on the responsibility of caring for crippled Mattie and Ethan, as well as their home. The house and the three people seem to crumble and become worn together.

Ethan would never have been happy with Zeena because he entered his marriage alone and miserable. His mother started to become ill, it seemed that as the winters went by she grew more silent. When Ethan’s mother died a part of him died with her (Vickers Journal) and he yearned for another human so he was not lonely. When Zeena came to help Ethan was just so happy to have someone else around, and to hear someone else’s voice. In a way Zeena saved Ethan because he feared if no one came soon he would become sick like his mother and grow quiet (Wharton 37).

The first summer Mattie Ethan is in charge of walking her in and out of town, he is already so unhappy with Zeena he sees no reasons to want anyone else in his life. Ethan is walking to pick up Mattie from a church dance in town. He thinks back to not wanting to make the two mile walk into town after a long day but these are the nights he looks forward too. Though it is cold he can barely tell, Mattie and the thought of walking alongside Mattie brings warmth or at least makes the cold more tolerable. Even on a cold snowy night walking past the family gravestones where Ethan knows he will end up, just a slight touch from Mattie and he is filled with warmth (Wharton 22). But the landscape outside of the farm houses does not only foreshadow where Ethan will end up in the future, but barren landscape of New England and especially during winter is also a symbol for Zeena’s infertility. Married seven years Ethan and Zeena still do not have any children (Fryer 183). Not only does the winter and barren landscape symbolize infertility it also symbolizes death, depression and loneliness.

Though Ethan is miserable with the choices he has made he cannot move on. Ethan does attempt to leave but he realizes he cannot desert his wife no matter how miserable and lonely he is with her and where they are (Wharton 78). He does think to run away with Mattie and leave Zeena the farm; it would bring her no money and she would be left alone and sick. Though Mattie brings light to Ethan’s life Zeena still is very dark and is always around them. Eventually making Mattie leave, Zeena is harsh and cold like Starkfield’s winters. As much as Ethan wants to leave and runaway with Mattie, his dreams and emotions are buried deep under the thick snow that covers his town and is suffocating him (Fryer 58). But under the snow are Ethan’s memories that are slowly fading. As the cold days go by he remembers less and less of his trip to Florida.

The only thing that looked hopeful in Ethan’s future was him going to school in Florida and becoming an engineer. But unfortunately for Ethan his and Zeena’s plans to move to Florida fall through when she becomes sick like his mother. The only time Ethan feels a sense of freedom and happiness is when he is in Florida planning to stay and study. Florida to Ethan meant warmer weather and a happier life versus Starkfield’s cold weather and isolated farmland (Leone 61). Moving to Florida meant moving to a bigger less isolated city but Zeena enjoyed looking down and turning up her nose to Starkfield. She could never live in a larger city that looked down on her. (Wharton 38). Staying in Starkfield with his sick wife there seems to be no hope, when Mattie arrives Ethan becomes hopefully that things will change.

Ethan is always unhappiest in the winter when he is isolated from the city by snow and left with only Zeena. Too many winters in Starkfield left him too cold to thaw even with Mattie’s help (Leone 61). The fear of loneliness after losing his mother is too much to handle. Not aware of his actions and afraid of spending another winter alone he marries Zeena out of obligation after she helps take care of his sickly mother (Wharton 38). Soon like his mother Zeena becomes ill and Mattie arrives to help care for her. Ethan fears that Mattie will soon leave. Mattie will become feed up with the living conditions and will want a man who is not attached to such a sick woman. Zeena tells Ethan again and again that it is only a matter of time till Mattie finds a man and moves on with her life.

Ethan is the only person to blame for his miserable life and his constant unhappiness. He was brought home from Florida to take care of his sick mother, when we could not handle her himself Zeena his cousin came to help. After his mother died Zeena stayed and he felt it was his duty to marry Zeena and stay with the farm for a while. Ethan put off moving back to Florida and selling the farm (Mine 128). He assumed with a wife like Zeena he would be able to quickly move back to Florida and make a name for himself as an engineer. Ethan thought they would both be happy because Zeena made it clear that she did not want to live on such an isolated farm in such a small town (Wharton 38-39).

If Ethan were to choose a partner out of desire he would pick cheerful, young Mattie Silver. But at the end of the book when she is forced to leave to make room for a new hired girl there is no hope or cheerfulness to be found. Ethan and Mattie take their life changing sleigh ride on a cold dark night. Their kiss before the ride down the hill seemed to heat up like the summer days they both missed but nothing seemed to be enough to melt the Starkfield winter (Wharton 68). Mattie hopes that she and Ethan can be together even if their only escape is suicide. She realizes there is no one out there for her, that she will be out alone in the world (Pennell 109). Mattie easily talks Ethan into the suicidal sleigh ride and they set off for the large winter spruce.

Even when trying to kill himself and Mattie Ethan cannot escape from Zeena when he sees her face before they crash into the winter spruce. Ethan and Mattie lay in the dark on the snow. Their attempt at escape ended with both of them crippled. They assumed the winter spruce would surely kill both of them. (Wharton 70). Winter yet again left Ethan alone and miserable, not only is Ethan caring for Zeena but he is now caring for Mattie who is crippled and mirrors Zeena sickly manner (Pennell 108).

When the story opens Ethan and Zeena have been married thirty one years. The entire story is a flashback, with Ethan recalling his life to the narrator, telling him of the twenty years of suffering he has endured (Lindberg 50). At the end the narrator enters the Frome’s kitchen, one of the women sitting down spoke but he cannot tell which both are pale and fragile (Wharton72). After all these years the house is even more run down and poverty stricken.

Ethan’s only source of happiness in Starkfield is his companionship with Mattie. Though it seems like Mattie is the polar opposite from Zeena in the very beginning it is only history repeating itself. Mattie is bursting with life and youth versus Zeena who not much older than Mattie has aged faster becoming sicker and more fragile (Vickers Journal). With Mattie’s presence Ethan tries being a better man for her. He starts shaving every day and he so badly wants to whisk Mattie away to start over out West (Wharton 19). Ethan constantly daydreams that he and Mattie are married and living together happily. Ethan imagines living a long life with her and then lying beside her in the Frome Cemetery that sits in front of his house. But thinking back when Zeena came to the house years ago to help Ethan she was probably just as youthful and full of life similar to when Mattie arrives.

Ethan’s life might have been better and filled with a little more happiness if Zeena wasn’t constantly present in some way. When Ethan and Mattie had a night alone when Zeena went to Bettsbridge, Zeena’s cat sat in Zeena’s chair and seemed to keep an eye on the two. Just like Zeena the cat made it impossible for anyone to enjoy the night when it broke Zeena’s treasured pickle dish that Mattie set out without Zeena’s permission (Wharton 45). Even with Zeena not physically around she was always presence especially in Ethan’s mind. Her nagging and needy personality made Ethan “the ruins of a once impressive-man (Lindberg 50).”

Though Ethan is miserable and infatuated with Mattie throughout the entire book, Zeena is miserable and unhappy throughout much of the book too. To preserve her marriage and the security it brings Zeena must get rid of Mattie. Hiring an actual house girl and sending Mattie away is Zeena’s new plan as she gets back from Bettsbridge (Pennell 105). When Zeena introduces the plan to Ethan about hiring a house girl and sending Mattie away Ethan becomes angry and starts making excuses on why Mattie should stay (Wharton 61). In the end Ethan and Mattie both plan to go through with Zeena’s plan, Ethan starts bringing Mattie to the train station but midway through their journey neither can go on.

In Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton uses the winter weather as well as Starkfield as a mirror for Ethan’s emotions to demonstrate that he purely acted out of obligation where desire was better suited left him miserable and lonely. The scenery mimics Ethan and Zeena’s imprisonment like marriage and though Ethan is miserable he does nothing about it nor does he tell his wife. Ethan is stuck on fading memories of Florida as well as Mattie but does not go after either of them. The only one who tries to get her way is Zeena who tries to send Mattie away nearly killing her husband in the process. The weather mirrors the characters emotions, sunny Florida left Ethan happy and free while isolated, cold Massachusetts left Ethan depressed and longing for freedom. If only Ethan were able to fulfill his dreams and become an engineer in Florida, his life and the lives of the people around him would have been drastically different.

© Copyright 2012 Sara Anna (paraphraseit at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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