Ethan Frome

What does the beginning of the novel suggest about the reliability of the information presented in the story?


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Ethan Frome is introduced from an omniscient Narrator’s point of view. We never learn his name; rather he is an engineer

sent to work on a job and temporarily detained in Starkfield, Massachusetts. Intrigued by Ethan Frome’s bleak, stiffened

appearance, imagining how he must have looked before the “smash up” that has twisted his body on one side, the Narrator

wants to learn details of the accident, but his landlady, Mrs. Hale, and the “village oracle,” Herman Gow, the stagecoach

driver, are reluctant to supply them.

Gow comments that “the smart ones get away” from Starkfield, yet Ethan has remained. Mrs. Hale allows that she “knew

them both…it was awful”—information that serves to pique the Narrator’s curiosity but not enough to satisfy. Gow has

volunteered the bare facts of Frome’s background, and, from these bits, the Narrator infers that the real Ethan Frome,

whoever he may be, has been frozen by his “tragic” past as well as the “accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters” into

the mute lonely cripple who has become a fixture in the town.

When Frome agrees to transport the Narrator to his job, their brief snatches of conversation make the Narrator feel that

he is finally getting to know Ethan, the man. A fierce snowstorm forces Frome and his passenger to put up at Frome’s

poor farm, and as the Narrator steps across the threshold to hear a “droning querulous voice,” he says that he has found

the clue to Ethan Frome and is able to put together a “vision of his story.” He does not enter the narrative again until the