Ethan Frome

Use of Setting in Ethan Frome

Typically one of the subtler parts of a novel, setting usually serves as a frame that supports the plot and characters. In Ethan Frome, however, Edith Wharton reinvents the use of setting as an integral element of the story. She weaves the physical aspects of the weather and landscape so tightly among the characters' inner feelings that the two become almost interchangeable. The prominence of the bleak winter weather in Ethan Frome demonstrates Wharton's unique mode of storytelling and allows her to develop deeply complex characters.

An unnamed visitor to the town of Starkfield narrates the preface and introduces the reader to Ethan Frome, the main character of the novel. He describes his curiosity upon seeing the taciturn, mysterious man, and resolves to find out what happened to transform "the most striking figure in Starkfield" to "the ruin of a man" (3). From his very first encounter with Ethan, the narrator views him through close parallels with the winter weather. The narrator employs Ethan to transport him by sleigh across town each day to do business and observes the strange man's behavior as he navigates the icy terrain: "[Ethan] seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an...

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