1. When I had been there a little longer, and had seen this phase of crystal clearness followed by long stretches of sunless cold; when the storms of February had pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of March winds had charged down to their support; I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months’ siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter.
This quotation is from the introduction, in which the narrator describes his experience of a Starkfield winter. His metaphorical comparison of Starkfield’s struggle against the harsh winter and a “starved garrison” struggling against a besieging army establishes one of Ethan Frome’s principal themes: the bleak, harsh physical environment surrounding the characters acts as an oppressive power, forcing a sort of spiritual surrender and emotional listlessness. When one of the old inhabitants of Starkfield says that Ethan Frome has “been in Starkfield too many winters,” he means that Ethan has lived for too long in what amounts to a state of siege by the climate. The novel suggests that when snow buries Starkfield each year, the emotions, dreams, and initiative of sensitive souls like Ethan also become buried, destroyed by the “long stretches of -sunless cold.”