Ethan Frome

Ethan and Mattie: Victim and Victor

It is under the most repressive limitations that the strength of one's character and one's ability to defy and transcend such limits can truly be measured. This idea is confirmed in Edith Wharton's novel, Ethan Frome, the story of a young man trapped in an unfulfilling marriage to a sickly older woman. Ethan and Mattie Silver, a second main character and the object of Ethan's affection, both react to the oppressive setting and power of local convention quite differently in their never-ending battle to be together. Ethan falls victim to the power of local convention while Mattie displays her untiring spirit and defies the social norm.

Ethan Frome, the novel's protagonist, is an unhappy young man who is caught in a quandary over whether to remain loyal to his wife and prolong his misery, or to pursue his passion for Mattie. His dilemma occurs because of the struggle between his passions and the constraints placed on him by the public. In the end, Ethan lacks the inner strength necessary to escape the oppressive forces of the setting, his wife, and convention.

One of the first examples of Ethan's moral cowardice is seen on the night when Zeena departs for Bettsbridge, leaving Ethan and Mattie alone. They go...

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