Ethane Frome Wonderful symbolism, pleasant reading, yet cynical and deterministic I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it to lovers of romantic tragedy. For its mere 157 pages, this novel has an amazing impact. Wharton, who is usually credited for her stories set in the society she was more familiar with, such as “The Age of Innocence” writes with profound symbolism here. Setting the story in the town of Starkfield, her main character, Ethan, is a poor farmer caught between the cold reality of his marriage and his warm passion for love.
In many ways “Ethan Frome” reminds me of “The Great Gatsby”, although Ethan is much more down-to-earth and realistic than the fanciful Jay. But both novels read like poetry, and Wharton masterfully uses the natural settings and seasons to describe and emphasize her protagonist’s inner workings. Where the tragedy of Gatsby’s story may be questionable, there is no question (not in my mind anyway) about this story’s appeal to our pathos. What is even more interesting is that Ethan Frome is probably the closest to autobiography of Wharton’s works.
She most likely chose a male protagonist in order to achieve the sympathy for those circumstances. Had she titled the story “Edna Frome” she would have likely stirred the animosity that Kate Chopin received for her book “The Awakening”. The story is a simple one and the reading very pleasing. Ethan Frome is in a loveless marriage to a “mean” and sickly woman – Zeena. He falls in love with her younger cousin Mattie, who embodies all the sweet characteristics of romance.
The dilemma is obvious on the surface, but is strengthened by many other unsurmountable realities. (Wharton has been labelled a believer of determinism, which is evident in this writing. ) The ending is very surprising. I thought I was following the foreshadowing well, but Wharton’s strange twist was something I never considered. It works in a sort of morbid poetic justice kind of way. This story could be called realistic, but I would say only in a “Murphy’s Law” manner.