Thoughts on Ethan Frome

When I first knew I had to read a novel named Ethan Frome, I, without reading the back cover, suspected that it would be a boring biography of some historical and adventurous man of whom I would never head about outside of literature class. I was worried that I would have my usually difficult time getting involved with this book. However, I was pleasantly surprised that my interest began to grow as soon as page five. The first feeling I get from Ethan Frome is a sense of cold isolation.

The cover of my version of the book is a blurred picture of a dark house surrounded with twig-like trees, cold and empty snow and a burnt sandy colored sky. The vision especially affected me because my moods are influenced by weather and surroundings. For example, I am my happiest when the sky has that distinctive clarity to it-the kind where there is no barrier of hazy fog between the air we breathe and that deep frosty blue color. Therefore, seeing such a dark world with no blue sky puts my mind in a dismal type of mode. I despise winter; the novel takes place in that season.

I also get a sense of death and extinction. A few examples are the “exanimate” remnants of Ethan’s sawmill and the dead vines on the farmhouse’s front porch. The town’s name “Starkfield,” says it all. I am beginning to think that the winter setting is just a parallel for Ethan, considering all the darkness and hardship he has supposedly gone through. I believe my interest is sparked by the suspense that Wharton uses. The fact that Harmon Gow is not liberal in dispatching information about Frome makes the narrator and me wonder more about Frome’s “smash-up.

The switch in point-of-view definitely confused me at first; however, I quickly understood that this is a “framed” story. I had to do a little research to remember, but the point-of-view was first person and is now changed to limited omniscient point-of-view. As Ethan was watching Mattie dance at the church, I wondered, “What’s the deal with this guy? Is this some type of unhealthy obsession? ” I thought he was stalking her. However, I found out shortly that they know each other. Honestly, I was disappointed because I enjoy those types of stories.

I really like the suspenseful mysteries on the Lifetime channel for women! Anyway, when Ethan was hiding and thought it was necessary to test Mattie on whether or not she would accept a ride home from Denis, I felt slightly annoyed. It reminded me of my semi-boyfriend. I use “semi” because we are not together because he immature and does not know hot to handle a friendship. So I refuse to commit because I know he is emotionally insufficient… plus I am young and do not want to get bogged down with the male species. Nevertheless, this current guy in my life also feels the need to “test” me.

He constantly tries to set me up to say something in which he can trap me. It never works because I am honest in our friendship, plus I am smarter than he. Nonetheless, Ethan’s ploy to “test” Mattie reminded me of that and made me wonder, “Why do people feel they must do this? ” It must be because they are insecure. I believe Ethan is very insecure; it must be very sad and difficult to live in such paranoia. I could not imagine being in a mental phase where I was constantly worrying about whether or not the person I loved would return those feelings.

In fact, I would think it to be torturous. I felt scared for Ethan and Mattie when they could not find the key to the back door. I was waiting for Zeena to appear and kick both of them out because she had found out that Ethan was madly in love. I believe the back door symbolizes shame, guilt, and deception. Back doors are located at the back of a house and are usually not visible from the front of a property. Therefore, by using the back door, Ethan is almost hiding his emotions for Mattie from the world that sees him.

He is also abiding by everything Zeena has planned as he is hiding his inner-disapproval as well. I am unsure if Mattie knows about and/or reciprocates Ethan’s feelings. Ethan cannot verbally express his love for Mattie, so I think the only way Mattie could know about his passion is from the loving acts he does. For instance, waiting and walking all that way in the dark and bitter snow to walk her home from the church must be an indication. (Ironically, the intensity of the cold parallels the intensity of Ethan’s love.

If I was Mattie, and Ethan told me that he was hiding and waiting to see whether or not I would accept a ride from Denis, I would be disturbed. The idea of some one watching me like that would leave me uneasy. However, Mattie did not seem to be affected negatively by Ethan’s behavior. Therefore, maybe she is not wary because she is aware of his feelings. Mattie mentions a couple, Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum, who almost hit an el tree sledding. In my mind, I am looking at Ned and Ruth as what I think Ethan wants he and Mattie to be.

I also do not understand the point of Mattie speaking of the couple, therefore, I am only assuming that it is foreshadowing something. They must be important later in the story. The last comments I have about chapters one and two deal with the comparison of imagery between Mattie and Zeena. Mattie is described with warmth and resemblances of summer and spring. Zeena is described with rough adjectives. The words Wharton uses to illustrate her make me picture a very awkward and harsh featured woman. That vision only adds to her miserable aura.