Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

  1. Is the conflict in Ethan Frome between morality and irresponsible actions, ethical and unprincipled behavior, or devotion and selfishness? Consider the following situations:

  2. Edith Wharton uses contrasts to illustrate the starkness of Ethan's world. Note the following in Ethan Frome:

    • light and dark

    • sickness and health

    • cold and warmth

    • the graveyard and the summer scene at Shadow Pond

    • despair and hope

    • pessimism and optimism

    • illness and loneliness

    • winter and spring

    • the Varnum house and the Frome house

    • illusion and reality

    • social restrictions and fervent desire

    • conscience and impulse

    • courage and cowardice

    • escape and entrapment

    • physical strength and mental weakness

  3. Symbols reflect the story's tone and Ethan's moods. They are also used in foreshadowing. Note the following symbols as they appear in the novel:

    • the cat

    • Zeena's pickle dish

    • the sled run

    • Mattie's scarlet ribbons and scarves

    • Ethan's private room

    • the actual town of Starkfield

    • the epitaph on the tombstone

    • Ethan's deformity

    • the weather

  4. Is Zeena responsible for Ethan's sadness, or does the blame rest with Ethan himself?

  5. Note how the disaster at the end causes a reversal of the characters’ situations.