full title · Ethan Frome
author · Edith Wharton
type of work · Novel
genre · Tragic romance
language · English
time and place written · 1910, in Paris
date of first publication · 1911
publisher · Scribner’s, New York
narrator · An anonymous visitor to Starkfield, Massachusetts, narrates the introduction and conclusion. In Chapters I–IV, the story flashes back approximately twenty years to Ethan Frome’s youth and the first--person narration gives way to a limited third-person narration (predominantly reflecting Ethan Frome’s point of view).
point of view · The frame story (introduction and conclusion) is told in the first person, from the narrator’s limited point of view as a visitor unfamiliar with Starkfield and Ethan Frome. However, most of the book is written in the third person limited, in which the narrator accesses Ethan’s thoughts but not those of the other characters.
tone · Foreboding, bleak, ironic, tragic, spare
tense · Past
setting (time) · The late nineteenth–early twentieth century
setting (place) · Starkfield, Massachusetts
protagonist · Ethan Frome
major conflict · Ethan’s main fight is with his own conscience, as he decides whether or not to reveal to Mattie his true feelings. His struggles are exacerbated by his surroundings—Zeena, the bleak Starkfield landscape, his home—which often take on an oppressive quality.
rising action · Ethan’s passion for Mattie grows as he walks her home from a dance; Zeena goes away for the night, leaving Ethan and Mattie alone, but they find their dinner together tense and awkward; Zeena decides to replace Mattie with another household helper; Ethan drives Mattie to the train station and neither can stand to leave the other.
climax · Ethan and Mattie confess their love for each other and decide to commit suicide by sledding into a large tree.
falling action · Ethan and Mattie regain consciousness after crashing into the elm; Zeena takes both of them in and cares for them into old age.
themes · Society and morality as obstacles to the fulfillment of desire; winter as a stifling force
motifs · Illness and disability; snow and cold
symbols · Mattie’s red scarf and red ribbon; Zeena’s cat; Zeena’s pickle dish; the final sled run
foreshadowing · The repeated references to sledding, and to the dangers associated with it, foreshadow the climactic scene in which Ethan and Mattie crash into the elm. The narrator’s introduction to the story describes Ethan as a disfigured man who has had an accident, foreshadowing that his relationship with Mattie will meet a tragic end.