Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews October 9, 2023
October 2, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
*See discount terms and conditions.
How does Wharton use symbolism to reinforce plot development in Ethan Frome?
The course of events in Ethan Frome is punctuated by a series of obvious symbolic devices, each of which serves to illustrate the development of the relationships among Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena. First, we encounter the connection between Mattie and the color red—she wears a red scarf to the dance and a red ribbon in her hair for her dinner alone with Ethan. In both cases, the color symbolizes her vitality and attractiveness in contrast with Zeena’s cold demeanor. It also symbolizes her temptation of Ethan toward sexual transgression. The cat that disrupts Ethan and Mattie’s meal and breaks Zeena’s favorite dish symbolizes the wife’s dominating spiritual presence in the Frome household, and how she comes between her husband and her cousin in their budding romance. Finally, Ethan and Mattie’s climactic sled ride symbolizes the careening, out-of-control course that Ethan embraces when he sets prudence aside and gives in to Mattie’s impulsive death wish. The sled ride is also symbolic of his more general approach to life—he relinquishes responsibility and agency and surrenders to momentum.
Thus, each of Ethan’s and Mattie’s three critical scenes together—outside the church, alone at home, and on the sledding hill—is marked by patent symbolism on Wharton’s part. Because by interpreting the symbols we add meaning to Ethan and Mattie’s interaction that neither of the characters perceives, Wharton’s use of symbolism creates dramatic irony. Along with the narrator’s use of foreshadowing, the dramatic irony created through symbolism adds to the sense of inevitable doom that surrounds the novel’s events.
Is Ethan a strong person? Why or why not?
When the narrator first comes to Starkfield, he is struck by the “careless powerful look” that Ethan Frome possesses in spite of his maimed body. Clearly, Ethan possesses great physical strength, which coexists with a strong, well-formed conscience—he is undeniably a good person. Nevertheless, he seems to lack inner strength; his story stands as an illustration of the way that a person can be mastered by, rather than a master of, circumstances. He fails to realize any of his desires, and although one can hardly blame him for it, one feels that Ethan must nevertheless bear some responsibility—for allowing Zeena’s illness to crush his desire to leave Starkfield, and then for never daring to break with convention and with his wife in the name of his romantic passions. The only proactive deed he undertakes is the final sled ride. Yet even this has been pushed on him by Mattie—and suicide represents what is ultimately only a continued passivity. Unable to face the consequences of any actual decision, Ethan lets Mattie make a choice for him; and although his is the deed that seals that choice, it is a choice to end all choices.
Discuss the relationship between the physical environment of Starkfield and the nature of the characters’ inner states.
Not only does bleak, oppressive cold shape Starkfield’s physical landscape; it penetrates the characters’ psychic landscapes as well. Early on, the narrator uses a metaphor of a city under siege to describe Starkfield in winter, comparing the freezing, snowy weather to a besieging army, and the inhabitants of Starkfield to a “starved garrison.” This metaphor establishes the theme of how Starkfield’s icy climate oppresses human lives. Just as the village’s spirit is crushed by the six months of ice and snow, so Ethan’s personal spirit is crushed—an old man describes Ethan as having “been in Starkfield too many winters.” Ethan’s home comes to seem like a prison that constricts him.
Wharton emphasizes that Ethan yearns to escape Starkfield. Before Zeena’s illness, he had planned to sell his farm, move to a larger town, and find work as an engineer. But he never escapes, and the reader has the sense that the oppressive spirit of the endless winters, along with his poverty and Zeena’s illness, seem to have settled over his heart, pinning him to one place. Mattie, with her high spirits and red trimmings—which contrast sharply with the deathly whiteness of Starkfield—appears to offer Ethan a way out, but in the end she, too, succumbs to the aura of the landscape. By the end of the novel, we see her sitting in the Frome farmhouse during a blizzard, complaining bitterly about the cold.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ethan Frome!