Ethan Frome’s Psych. Ethan Frome as a Psychological Novel When Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his novel, The Scarlet Letter, he was praised as being the father of the psychological novel. Since the completion of his landmark story, many other authors have taken their work in similar directions and have tried to reveal human psychology through their writing. Authors have been trying to convey truths about human behavior and explain the human psyche, often unsuccessfully. Edith Whartons novel, Ethan From, is an excellent example of a novel that succeeds in revealing truths.
She fills her characters with nuances that reflect the subconscious and her setting is alive with reflected symbolism. She is able to interpret the characters actions in a way that can relate to all humans. Each word and phrase seems to be chosen so that it reflects a part of the subconscious in the characters. Edith Whartons Ethan Frome is a psychological examination of the human mind, based on her use of setting to reflect emotion, characterization to reflect human tendencies towards chaos and other psychological aspects of the human mind. In Ethan Frome, Wharton uses the setting to show the feelings and psychological behavior of the characters.
Because the tone of the novel is somber and the characters suffer greatly, Wharton used the gothic technique of matching the scenery to the characters emotions. The principal setting of the novel is Starkfield, which is a small farming based community. The houses are mostly several miles from the center of town. Richard Worth, a literary critic, says of Starkville, even the name suggests utter desolation (64). The name of the town gives the initial impression of the mindset of the characters: hopelessness.
The New England winter the physical landscape can reinforce psychic tensions oppressing the people in the community (McDowell 85). The narrator, Harmon Gow, describes the setting and says, the winter set down on Starkfield, and the village lay under a sheet of snow, perpetually renewed from the pale skies(7). During the entirety of the novel, the Starkfield weather is brutally cold and snowy. Because winter and coldness are some of the predominant images in the book, it was first published under the title LHiver, which means winter in French. The images described in the book are harsh and vivid, clearly showing the tone of the novel.
The village lay under two feet of snow, with drifts at the windy corners. In a sky of iron the points of the dipper hung like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fire (Wharton 26). The snow and cold restate the cruelty of the characters situations. The setting, using the bleakness of winter, provides a complicated time scheme through which the author could dramatically contrast the bleak existence of her characters in the present with their youthful expectations in the past (McDowell 74). The winter scenery provides testament to things gone wrong, almost a romantic styled sympathy of nature.
The color scheme used to describe the setting mirrored the desolation of the characters feelings. The black shade of the varnum spruces becomes gray under the stars (Wharton 34). The gray of the backdrop symbolized the disturbance between what was right and what was best for Ethan. There is no sharp line between the normal and abnormal psyche, nor between the real and supernatural. In the vast remote area, covered by snow, the sharp line between psychic dislocation and spirit world dissolves (McDowell 85).
The absence of a sharp line was shown with the used of an intermediate gray tone, which was seen recurring thorough out the novel. There was no right or wrong in his case, hence the blend of the two colors, black and white, into gray. Wharton even used actual physical objects to represent characters from the novel, such as blighted apple trees which have bent from the weight of snow. Ethan is symbolically the apple tree because of his physical deformities as well as the mental burdens he has faced during his life. Ethan talks in the novel about removing the L shaped projection from off of his house. I had to take down the L a while back (Wharton 22).
The action of Ethan removing part of his house parallels his feelings of loss for his family and Mattie and is an expressionof his misery. Because of her excellent use of imagery and description of the setting, Edith Wharton is able to incorporate the psychological elements of the characters onto the backdrop of the action of the novel. One of the predominant motifs of Ethan Frome is the feeling of isolation. Again this is a theme that is reflected by the setting, but it is also seen in the characters actions as well. The setting also captures the pervasive isolation of the citizens of Starkfield (Springer 80).
Starkfield itself is a means of external isolations, as it is a small town village that receives little to no news of the outside world. With in Starkfield, the placement of the Frome house further isolates the characters. The house is on the fringe of the town and has no neighbors within at least 5 miles. Even if Ethan were closer to town and could establish communications with people other than Zeena, he would still have feel separation. The Frome household is cut off from the community of Starkfield both literally and in terms of the depth of its suffering (Goodwyn 76).
Ethan had a life time so filled with tragedy and disappointments that it would have been impossible for the average farmer of Starkfield to relate to him or understand his position. Within the house, Zeena and Ethan are clearly isolated from each other, due to Zeenas illness and Ethans unhappiness. Its inmates are even isolated from each other in the extremity of their need (Goodwyn 76). Ethan and Zeena never had a real relationship in the first place, but Matties presence and Zeenas illness further alienate the couple. Ethan and Zeena have no outside connections, except for an occasional trip into town, and they dont even have each other for companionship.
The ultimate irony of the novel is when Ethan and Matt …