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Ethan Frome Dialectic Journal Essay

“The village lay under two feet of snow… in a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fires…the white house-fronts between elms looked gray against the snow, clumps of bushes made black stains on it…” (Wharton, 26). The very beginning or initial description of the setting of the story already gives it a feeling of isolation. Especially with it being presumably in the winter as the village is buried beneath snow and everything just seems and appears so cold and lonely. It reminds me of those movies or stories in which the world has ended and there are no people left, although there are people still inhabiting this village it still feels so isolated. (77 words) “He did not even know whether any one else in the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege” (Wharton, 33). It is interesting how soon the reader is able to discover how unhappy Frome is in this story and how lonely he feels. The theme of isolation definitely makes itself viable to the reader early on in the story, whereas in many stories the theme may not be entirely known until closer to the end of the story. I also really like the way Wharton words the way he feels that if he was the “sole victim of this mournful privilege.”

It almost makes his situation seem welcoming as well as distasteful. (92 words) “They stood together in the gloom of the spruces, an empty world glimmering about them wide and grey under the stars”(Wharton, 44) It catches my, as well as other readers’ attention, when authors use such descriptive words. As Wharton uses words such as: “gloom, empty world glimmering, grey under the stars,” it brings sort of a contradiction of images in which the bad outweigh the good. The grey overwhelms the true brightness of stars, and the empty world doesn’t glimmer so much with the negative words accompanying them. (66 words) “Sometimes their way led them under the shade of an overhanging bank or through the thin obscurity of a clump of leafless trees. Here and there a farmhouse stood far back among the fields, mute and cold as a grave-stone. The night was so still that they heard the frozen snow crackle under their feet” (Wharton, 49).

I appreciate the amount of imagery Wharton includes in her writing and what it also represents along with describing the settings and pictures of the current situations. Especially with how she uses the cold and quiet as extremely moving factors of imagery as well as motifs for the theme. In this particular quote she also describes the farmhouses as being mute and cold as a grave-stone; I personally love how it defines the setting as well as the theme. (79 words) “He had been afraid that she would hate the hard life, the cold and loneliness; but not a sign of discontent escaped her. Zeena took the view that Mattie was bound to make the best of Starkfield since she hadn’t any other place to go; but this did not strike Ethan as conclusive. Zeena, at any rate, did not apply the principle in her own case” (Wharton, 58) “Cold and loneliness” seem to be frequently recurring topics in this story and especially used together in most scenarios. However, cold and isolation typically find each other appealing and flow so well together it makes sense. Along with that is the views of many deciding why Mattie remained in Starkfield; they all make their own assumptions but of course the only one that truly knows is Mattie herself. This is an everyday sort of thing we see. (77 words)

“It was formed of Zeena’s obstinate silence, of Mattie’s sudden look of warning, of the memory of just fleeting imperceptible signs as those which told him, on certain stainless mornings, that before night there would be rain…His dread was so strong that, man-like, he sought to postpone certainty” (Wharton, 60). It may be ironic that I am relating this to school, but when I read this quote that’s what I think of; when someone is cheating on a test and your friend who is helping you sends you that warning look as the teacher sits quietly but you are sure that they know. You try to plan how you will prevent getting caught or if you do get caught what you will say to find your way out of the inevitability of it. Just as Frome is doing in this situation as he “sought to postpone certainty.” (97 words) “There the silence had deepened about him year by year. Left alone, after his father’s accident, to carry the burden of farm and mill, he had had no time for convivial loiterings in the village; and when his mother fell ill the loneliness of the house grew more oppressive than that of the fields” (Wharton, 69).

This is an extremely powerful quote as it highlights the underlying causes for Fromes’ isolation and loneliness. It had been instilled in him due to his fathers’ passing in an accident and his mothers’ fatal illness. It shows that everywhere he went he was haunted by their ghosts and I especially like how Wharton explains that “the loneliness of the house grew more oppressive than that of the fields,” it makes you feel as if you are there mourning with him. (81 words) “After the funeral, when he saw her preparing to go away, he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on the farm; and before he knew what he was doing he had asked her to stay there with him” (Wharton, 70). It was out of desperation and fear of loneliness and the cold weather that Frome asked Zeena to stay with him, which later led to their marriage. Although it reminds me of when I am going somewhere and I don’t want to be alone I will confide in even just someone I know if my friends are unable to be with me; just so I will have someone there with me, although I may not favor their company. (78 words)

“She pronounced the word married as if her voice caressed it. It seemed a rustling covert leading to enchanted glades. A pang shot through Ethan, and he said, twisting away from her in his chair: ‘It’ll be your turn next, I wouldn’t wonder’” (Wharton, 93). While Mattie is open and realizing that marriage to someone other than Ethan is entirely possible it yet again strikes Ethan into realizing how lonely he could be still if Mattie were to find someone else to marry and leave although he is still married to Zeena. This just kind of goes to show that although you may have something, it doesn’t always mean you will be content with what you have. (72 words) “She turned and looked at him a moment. ‘Good night, Ethan,’ she answered, and went up. When the door of her room had closed on her he remembered that he had not even touched her hand” (Wharton, 97). Ethan’s lonesomeness shows through how he wishes to capitalize on even the smallest gestures when with Mattie. Perhaps Mattie does not share the same emotions that Ethan does and while he may see that touching her hand is a sincere gesture shared between them, and he craves for it, she does not feel this way and it is just merely a gesture to her. (64 words)

“On the way over to the wood-lot one of the greys slipped on a glare of ice and cut his knee… Then when the loading finally began, a sleety rain was coming down once more, and the tree trunks were so slippery that it took twice as long as usual to lift them and them in place on the sledge” (Wharton, 100). Ethan is human. Everything that could go wrong that day for him does. I understand his struggle immensely because I, as well as most other humans have had days where nothing goes right and it makes you feel flustered and almost hopeless. Nothing works out the way it should for Ethan and although it doesn’t he keeps trying to accomplish it. (61 words) “To Ethan there was something vaguely ominous in this stolid rejection of free food and warmth, and he wondered what had happened on the drive to nerve Jotham to such stoicism. Perhaps Zeena had failed to see the new doctor or had not liked his counsels: Ethan knew that in such cases the first person she met was likely to be held responsible for her grievence” (Wharton, 105). Thinking that Zeena had not enjoyed her trip to the doctor or had been disappointed with the results she had received, she may have taken out her displeasure on the first person she encountered which was probably Jotham.

Therefore he probably felt awkward about coming to dinner with all of them; as would have most people, including myself, about coming to dinner after hearing the hosts’ disappointment. (67 words) “I’m a great deal sicker than you think.’ Her words fell on his ear with a strange shock of wonder. He had often heard her pronounce them before – what if at last they were true? He advanced a step or two into the dim room. ‘I hope that’s not so, Zeena,’ he said” (Wharton, 108). In expressing how sick she may truly be, Ethan acts as if he is very sorry and hopes she is not sick, but there is that underlying possibility that is known to the reader that he wishes she may be sick so that he can pursue his envisioned life with Mattie. While he may not entirely hope that Zeena succumbs to her illness he might not wish that she get better. (71 words) “He saw his blunder before she could take it up: she wanted sympathy, consolation. ‘I didn’t need to have anybody tell me I was losing ground every day. Everybody but you could see it’” (Wharton, 109).

Zeena searches for sympathy while Ethan who does not fully pay attention to her even as other people do does not give her the full sympathy she wishes. All she wants is for someone to care, as any person would. She probably feels even more hurt that her very own husband does not pay much attention to her as other people do. (62 words) “Confused motions of rebellion stormed in him. He was too young, too strong, too full of the sap of living, to submit so easily to the destruction of his hopes. Must he wear out all his years at the side of a bitter querulous woman?” (Wharton, 130). Ethan is tired of dealing with Zeena and is realizing how he can go without her being his age and having interests in Mattie. Like people reach it sometimes, Ethan is reaching his breaking point with Zeena and is okay with the fact that he could be without her because he has already practically moved onto the other life which he wishes he could have. (65 words) “He went up to Mattie as she bent above the stove, and laid his hand on her arm. ‘I don’t want you should trouble either,’ he said, looking down into her eyes with a smile.

She flushed up warmly and whispered back: ‘No, Ethan, I ain’t going to trouble’” (Wharton, 137). Ethan cares and shows sympathy toward Mattie as Zeena threatens to kick her out and no longer use her as a servant. He shows more sympathy than he ever really showed Zeena. This just goes to show how if people really care they will show it and help one another. While if they don’t really care, they will just put on a front and only act as if they do, if that. (72 words). “It was a shy secret spot, full of the same dumb melancholy that Ethan felt in his heart” (Wharton, 152). The “shy secret spot” is not only symbolic of what Ethan feels in his heart but also kind of how Ethan is as a person as well. I also like the way Wharton compares it to the “same dumb melancholy in his heart.”

It’s like when you feel sad but you don’t know why, or you don’t want to, yet you still do. (63 words) “Confused motions of rebellion stormed in him. He was too young, too strong, too full of the sap of living, to submit so easily to the destruction of his hopes. Must he wear out all his years at the side of a bitter querulous woman?” (Wharton, 130). Ethan is tired of dealing with Zeena and is realizing how he can go without her being his age and having interests in Mattie. Like people reach it sometimes, Ethan is reaching his breaking point with Zeena and is okay with the fact that he could be without her because he has already practically moved onto the other life which he wishes he could have. (65 words)

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