Ethan Frome Narrative Essay

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Pages: 7

“In Ethan Frome Wharton creates a totally disinterested narrator, one whom is only curious about how the lives of others relate to him. He may talk about Ethan Frome, but he tells us nothing about him.” Discuss how narration influences your understanding of Ethan Frome.
‘Narration refers to the way that a story is told, and so belongs to the level of discourse (although in first-person narration it may be that the narrator also plays a role in the development of the story itself). The different kinds of narration are categorized by each one's primary grammatical stance: either 1) the narrator speaks from within the story and, so, uses "I" to refer to him- or herself, in other words, the narrator is a character of some sort in the story itself, even if he is only a passive observer; or 2) the narrator speaks from outside the story and never employs the "I", see third-person omniscient narration; third-person-limited narration; and objective shot.’ 1
Narration in Ethan Frome influences my understanding of the novella profoundly. The narrative structure gives focused questions about the storyline, causing us to consider and understand the novella in greater detail. This enables us to comprehend the context of the work. It also structures the understanding for us to look for relationships between characters in the novella. The narrative structure should be used during the reading of the novel. Through the use of the narrative structure, we should know the context and the plot structure of the novel. Every work of fiction has a narrator, a “voice” that tells the story.2 In Ethan Frome, the narrator is an engineer who is visiting Starkfield on a job. At the beginning of the novella he tells the story from the first-person point of view, referring to himself as ‘I’. However, from chapter one up to near the end of the book he speaks in the third-person, and the thoughts and feelings of one character.
The story of Ethan Frome begins with the narrator finding himself in the small New England town of Starkfield for the winter. He sets out to learn about the life of a mysterious local named Ethan Frome, who had a tragic accident some twenty years earlier.
The novella beginning with the narrator is quite hindering and is a rather unusual way to open a fiction. This suggests to me a focus on the narrator. The structure of this story demands that we take the narrator into account. It is his “image” of Ethan Frome.
We are then transported back to a time where we find Ethan walking through Starkfield at midnight. He arrives at the church, where a dance is taking place. Ethan wanders by the window, mesmerised by a young girl in a red-coloured scarf. He has come to the church to collect his wife’s cousin, Mattie Silver. Mattie had been living with the Fromes, helping around the house. We later find out that Mattie is actually the girl in the red-coloured scarf and the main focus of Ethan’s affection.
When the dance comes to an end, Ethan lingers to keep his presence hidden. Denis Eady, a young man from Starkfield offers Mattie a lift home, however, she declines and begins to walk home alone. Ethan finally makes himself visible to Mattie. As they walk home together, Ethan feels a sense of ecstasy in Mattie’s presence, and the tension between the two becomes extremely apparent. However, this tension is quickly ended when they arrive home to Zeena, Ethan’s sick wife.
Ethan spends the following morning cutting wood and when he returns home he finds Zeena preparing for a journey. She has decided to seek treatment for her illness in another town, where she will stay the night with a relative. Ethan is extremely excited by the idea of a night alone with Mattie Silver.
The same evening at supper, tensions run high between Ethan and Mattie. Neither of them actually verbalise their feelings for each other but their mutual feelings are obvious between them. However this is quickly halted when the cat smashes Zeena’s favourite pickle dish which was a