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Points to Ponder

There is a gigantic dichotomy in this book between wealth of detail and paucity of character development. It takes Wharton paragraphs to describe the appearance of the Frome farm, but she also leaves large gaps in her characters' emotional reactions that leave us guessing at their true emotions and intentions. Does Zeena really love Ethan? Does she suspect that Ethan and Mattie have fallen in love with each other? Does Ethan still love Mattie even after the accident? By leaving such holes in her story, critics have claimed that these weaknesses simply prove how early this novella came in her career, but this gap between her descriptions of the environment and of her characters' emotions simply emphasizes the grand scale of nature and the sad but simple tragedy that the Fromes will suffer quietly through every day for the rest of their lives.

Color plays a huge role in Ethan Frome. In contrast to the utter colorlessness of the snowy New England landscape, the color red is associated with passion, love, and vitality - the same color that is connected to the young Mattie Silver. From the red in her cheeks to the red ribbon that she wears during her dinner with Ethan to the red glass plate of Zeena that she breaks, Ethan is drawn to the vibrant and visible red that symbolizes the difference between his passion for Mattie and the dull, lifeless existence that the rest of Starkfield represents.

Something else to notice while you're reading Ethan Frome is the mutability of characters throughout the book - different characters take on other characters' personas and roles. Again, Wharton's fascination with the environment may have inspired her to think that because seasons change again and again, so too do individuals change and assume other personalities. Because our communities shape our behavior, there is no way for us to control who we are or who we become. The most obvious example of this phenomenon of character transformation involves Zeena and Mattie at the end of the book because Mattie has become the sickly, complaining invalid who Zeena had once been. In Zeena's absence, the cat takes on her personality and even tries at several points to interrupt Ethan and Mattie's intimate evening together. Talk about an identity crisis. Even Ethan assumes the characteristics of his dilapidated farm; even though it was beautiful and impressive during his youth, the loss of the "L" from the farm has made it look detached and ruined.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Introductory Note
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10


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