Essay on Ethan Frome and Zeena

Submitted By predsnation
Words: 1015
Pages: 5

The Fault of Charity
By Allie Sheets

In modern novels, most protagonists experience a great downfall due to their personality flaws. For example, the Phantom, from Phantom of the Opera, learns what true loneliness is due to his obsessive demeanor. Ethan Frome, from Ethan Frome, is no exception to this downfall. The reader can see the declining spirit in Ethan’s character throughout the story. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, is a tragic novella, in the classical sense by which a flaw in the hero’s character contributes to his downfall. At the start of the novella, not including the first ten pages, Ethan is shown to be lively and interactive to his environment. Not only does Wharton show him as spirited, but she describes the environment similarly: “The dancers were going faster and faster, and the musicians, to keep up with them, belaboured their instruments like jockeys lashing their mounts on the homestretch” (13). This first real setting in the story is a festive one. The dancers’ speed and the loud music not only create a stimulating vision for the reader but also reflect Ethan’s mood. Surely, Ethan is much happier without the lingering presence of Zeena. So, by making him sit alone, watching the excitement, it pulls him away from her domination. When he is alone with Mattie, his true personality shines through. Wharton writes, “Her wonder and his laughter ran together like spring rills in a thaw. Ethan had the sense of having done something arch and ingenious” (19). In this scene, Ethan laughs, smiles, and is carefree. This is one of the few moments when Ethan is alone with Mattie and only one quality makes all of those scenes similar: hope. In all of his

Sheets 2 moments with Mattie, he has the hope to escape. This scene, the opening scene, is no exception. Unfortunately, Wharton does not let Ethan’s happiness linger. In other words, she shows him cheerful for a short moment before she tears his joy into miniscule pieces. Upon the introduction of Zeena, there is a noticeable difference in Wharton’s syntax. She begins as light and jubilant, but it soon turns gloomy. She writes, “The light, on a level with her chin, drew out of the darkness her puckered throat and the projecting wrist of the hand that clutched the quilt, and deepened fantastically the hollows and prominences of her high-boned face under its ring of crimping curls” (22). Even before Zeena enters, Ethan sees a dead cucumber vine on the porch. Suddenly, this scene seems a lot more depressing. Wharton uses words such as “darkness,” “hollows,” and “puckered” in her description of Zeena. Later on she states, “Ethan passed into the kitchen, which had the deadly chill of a vault after the dry cold of the night” (22). In conjunction with the opening, her word choices seem dreary. Clearly, Zeena sucks the life out of a room, not only because of her haunting presence but also by her bitter attitude. However, Ethan’s downfall does not begin until his flaw is shown. The fault in Ethan is that he tries to help too many people, specifically two that are pitted against each other. At one moment, he is dedicated to Zeena: “I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped. You’re a poor man’s wife, Zeena; but I’ll do the best I can for you” (49). However, not much later, he refutes that statement: “You can’t go, Matt! I won’t let you! She’s always had her way, but I mean to have mine now—“ (52). Ethan jumps back and forth between Zeena and
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Mattie too much. He cannot even help himself due to this factor. The difference between these two statements is barely three pages. He surely changes his mind quickly. It is due to this that he experiences destruction. Throughout the story, Ethan slowly declines from a lively spirit to the shell of a man he used to be. By trying to satisfy both Zeena and…