Ethan Frome

A Natural[Ethan]istic Story 11th Grade

Although by definition, a classic tragedy takes place when a character’s downfall is the direct consequence of a personality flaw, Edith Wharton’s novella Ethan Frome rejects this concept. As a story written by an author schooled in naturalistic and deterministic philosophies, the tragic life of Ethan Frome is an embodiment of both theories. While Wharton tells the story of Ethan’s desperate hopes and attempts to leave his dreary life, she employs symbolism and foreshadowing to convince the reader that his doomed fate was sealed from the start.

The symbols of Zeena’s cat and the scarlet pickle dish are used throughout the story to give insight to the fact that Ethan’s future has been predetermined. Throughout the story, Zeena’s cat is used to symbolize Zeena herself. This is especially prevalent when Zeena goes away, and Ethan is left alone with Mattie. While eating dinner with Mattie on the night of Zeena’s departure, Ethan observes that “The cat- who had been a troubled observer of these unusual movements- jumped into Zeena’s chair...and lay watching them with narrow eyes”(37). Ethan believes that the time with Zeena away is his chance to connect with Mattie. But the cat, symbolizing Zeena’s ever-watching eyes, disrupts their...

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