Setting in Edith Wharton's short story Ethan Frome

Essay by KDDOBHigh School, 11th gradeA, February 2004

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A setting can have various effects on different people: it usually acts as either

a benefactor or cursor. More often then not, the setting tends to mirror a character's

feelings and/or emotions. In Edith Wharton's short story, Ethan Frome, the

protagonist, Ethan, has himself, ultimately become a victim of his surroundings

having "been in Starkfield too many winters" (5). A hindrance to Ethan and his

desires, the elements of winter and their terrible barrage on Ethan's morality, are what

direct the actions of the novel. In the story, the setting reflects the attitudes and

different outlooks of the characters, helping to shape and direct the tale's plot. This

depiction of setting can be specifically examined through various physical

surroundings and the weather.

The weather depicts the characters as embodiments of winter, which

foreshadows the plot of the story. In the opening scene, Ethan, outside in the cold, is

watching Mattie dance.

The narrator describes the conditions, from which Ethan is

completely withdrawn. "The night was so perfectly still, and the air so dry and pure

that it gave little sensation of cold" (11). Ethan is so amazingly transfixed, that he

does not realize anything else, solely seeing Mattie in a new light. Ethan's state of

absolute withdrawal from everything else is permitted by the dryness and purity of

the air. This scene introduces the intense bond between Ethan and Mattie, and

prefigures their relations to come. Next, when Zeena leaves to get treatment from a

doctor, it leaves Ethan and Mattie alone in the house. The refreshened mood, now that

Zeena has left, is one of utter happiness. The narrator depicts the atmosphere around

Mattie. He describes how "It was warm and bright in the kitchen" (28). These

conditions that are normally associated with good weather, can also reflect...