"He was a prisoner for life..."
See in text (Chapter VIII)
Wharton has suggested that Ethan feels imprisoned for much of the novel, but at this moment she uses a metaphor (a comparison without the terms “like” or “as”) to make it extremely clear for the reader. Consider also that this metaphor comes directly after Ethan internally struggles with leaving Zeena to go West, abandoning duty and honor, or staying in his current situation. Even when he decides that he can leave, Ethan is trapped by his low earnings—he cannot even afford a train ticket.