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Date QW Written: December 7, 2015
Starkfield, Massachusetts. Stark: (adj.) plain, cold, unpleasant, difficult to accept. In the prologue of novel, readers are immediately immersed in the snow-filled winter landscape that gives a sense of timelessness to the setting. Without a doubt, Ethan Frome is associated with the winter — he can even be considered winter itself when every life he seems to touch is unfortunately destroyed, seen through the “ailments” and aging of Zeena and the crippling of Mattie.
When winter is mentioned in the novel, the common idea is the harmful effects of experiencing “too many winters.” Harmon Gow uses the phrase to describe the hardships Ethan goes through from losing his father, then mother, and then experiencing the notorious smash-up. Yet, with the circumstances of Mattie, one winter seems enough to drain the life out of one soul. Throughout the novel, Mattie is associated with the liveliness of nature, often associated with a small animal, warmth, and the season of spring. However, much like the beauty of nature, Mattie cannot survive the cold destruction of Ethan’s harsh and unrelenting winter.
While the bulk of the novel is set in a single winter, the season and associations seem neverending, most likely due to the size of the novel. Yet, this decision is well-played on Wharton’s part because it perfectly relates to the theme of the inescapability of circumstance. All who are around Ethan will be stranded in life-oppressing winter and Ethan will never be able to escape this fact. He will only endure and continue aiding those he has affected, not only because of his sense of duty and compassion but because he is the only one who ca.
Much can be said about the representation of winter and its symbolism associated with Ethan in the novel, but the novel is essentially about unfortunate and unforgiving circumstances that one cannot escape. Every single person has his or her own winter and whether or not he or she will brave through the icy winds or be consumed by neverending snow is not his or her choice. Ethan Frome is only one example of the ubiquity of these winters.