Desperation, Isolation, And Intolerance In Ethan Frome

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade October 2001

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Note: High School English 11 College Preparatory Level Can you recall feeling as though everything you knew was trying to trap you, including your own self and conscience? Welcome to Ethan Frome's world - where society's intolerance, his feelings of isolation, and his desperation trap him. In Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, it becomes evident that Ethan experiences those three aforementioned oppressors through use of similarities and differences.

First, using the difference between Ethan's thoughts and his actions towards Mattie Silver, and the difference between Ethan's general attitude the day before Mattie leaves his home for emphasis, the author implies that Ethan suffers from isolation. According to Ethan's thoughts as he and Mattie sit together, it appears that Ethan would like to hold and kiss Mattie in the scant time granted to him during Zenobia's - his wife's - absence. "...An illusion of long established intimacy..." (38) hung between them, as though they were always lovers.

However, Ethan restrains himself troughout the entire evening without even brushing fingers with the girl he loves sincerely. "...He remembered he had not even touched her..." (41) despite that it was obvious he would have liked to. Ethan would rather deny himself contact, though, isolating himself. To cross that threshold into physical comfort is unfathomable. Then, Ethan's solemn and subdued, though kind-hearted nature destroys itself, replaced with a rebellious spirit. In the end, though, Ethan cannot support the radical contrast in behaviour, and his newfound determination seems rather like a moth pounding on the glass of his controlled sensibility.

Next, using the similarities Ethan finds between stability and hope and death, the author implies that Ethan experiences desperation. Walking past the Frome Family grave-enclosure with Mattie, Ethan feels a surge of hope and security with the thought that he may lie there...

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