Ethan Frome

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade January 2002

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For this month's outside reading selection I chose the book, Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, under the essayists & fiction writers category. Wharton employs various stylistic devices that she uses effectively to embellish description and dialogue. Wharton's rhetoric also serves as an implement to advance her ongoing themes of despair and the prison-like qualities of responsibility.

Toward the end of Wharton's story of "the most striking man in Starkfield", Wharton describes the tragedy that loomed over the closely-knit Massachusetts town that was inundated by the tale of Ethan Frome. "There was one day, about a week after the accident, when they all thought that Mattie couldn't live. Well, I say it's a pity she did. I said it right out to our minister once, and he was shocked at me. Only he wasn't with me that morning when she first came to"¦ And I say, if she'd ha' died, Ethan might ha' lived; and the way they are now, I don't see's much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; "˜cept that down there they're all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues."

This passage is representative of Wharton's style and her thematic conscientiousness. Wharton shocks the reader with an overwhelming sense of despair and sorrow throughout her novel using a variety of dismal and gloomy descriptions of a cold and desolate town and the joyless and grim lives of those whom she introduces the reader to. But, Wharton mainly uses dialogue to convey emotion to the reader, as in the previous passage. The frequent somber exchanges between Ethan and Zeena, and strikingly depressing conversations with Mattie promote a sense of overwhelming emptiness and melancholy, which add to Wharton's themes of despair and the inescapable nature of Ethan's destiny.

Wharton's distinctively somber style of writing illustrates her sense of theme and effectively promotes plot while creating emanations of sullen emotion for the reader to soak up. After reading Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, it is apparent that Wharton has effectively left an impression upon you"”and that is the goal of any good writer.