Imagery of Ethan Frome

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Edith Wharton uses imagery in the novel Ethan Frome. Her use of imagery enhances the theme and reading experience of the novel. Her use of imagery vividly compares and contrasts Mattie and Zeena, the two women in Ethan's life. Mattie Silver is Zeena's cousin who comes to live with the Fromes. Mattie is the equivalent of modern-day maid, because she cooks and maintains the Frome household. Wharton describes Mattie as being a lively and happy young woman, before her suicide attempt that leaves her an invalid and a former shadow of herself. Her name alone, Mattie Silver, symbolizes the glistening and beauty of a piece of sterling silver. Mattie's beauty attracts Ethan to her. "...Zeena was to be away for a night. He wondered if the girl were thinking of it too" (Wharton 47). Compared to Zeena, Mattie was the embodiment of life: she was radiant and energetic. "The pure air, and the long summer hours in the open, gave life and elasticity to Mattie" (Wharton 60). When Mattie first arrives in Starkfield, her presence is perceived as, "... a bit of hopeful young life, like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth" (33). However, Zeena, Ethan's wife of seven years, she the exact opposite of Mattie's beauty and radiance. Death is personified in the form of Zeena Frome, a hypochondriac who speaks only to complain. "Zeena has always been what Starkfield called 'sickly'" (Wharton 25). Needless to say, Zeena's appearance and daily habits are very unattractive, when compared to Mattie. "Then he [Ethan] had a distinct sight of his wife lying in their bedroom asleep, her mouth slightly open, her false teeth in a tumbler by the bed" (Wharton 37). "The room was almost dark, but in the obscurity he saw her sitting by a window, and knew by the rigidity of the outline projected against the pane that she had not taken off her traveling dress" (Wharton 77). This quote conjures up an image of a skeleton. "The rigidity of the outline" symbolizes the rigid property of a skeleton sitting next to a window, illuminated only by the moonlight which reflects off of the rigid bones, bones that are visible after a human body has died and completely decomposed. Zeena is described as wintry and unappealing: "She [Zeena] sat opposite the window, and the pale light reflected from the banks of snow made her face look more than usually drawn and bloodless, sharpened the three parallel creases between ear and cheek, and drew querulous lines from her thin nose to the corners of her mouth" (64). Again, an image of skeleton is drawn in words by Wharton. The pervasiveness of the winter imagery evokes in the reader a sense of the bitter solitude, silence, desolation, and despair ultimately felt by each of the three main characters. Starkfield fits Zeena's character and the novel perfectly. Stark, itself, means dreary, grim or harsh. So, in essence, Starkfield can actually be called a grim field, which is the ideal hometown for an individual like Zeena, who was depicted as cold and self-centered. Later in the book, this also becomes and ideal place for Mattie and Ethan, after they survive their suicide attempt which permanently cripples both of them, although it affected Mattie more severely. Their injuries give Ethan and Mattie the appearance of death, because both of them appea

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