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Date QW Written: December 10, 2015
Ethan, with the eyes of a man in love, sees Mattie as perfection, one who could do no wrong. This aspect is the only perception we can get from Ethan. Through Ethan’s point of view, Mattie is very one-dimensional, serving more of a character’s love interest than being a character herself. One could be swayed by the way Ethan finds the downturn of Mattie’s lashes endearing or the way he finds pride in her surprise of his words and actions, but other than these little palpations of the heart, Mattie is not tangible as a character in Ethan’s point of view. As readers we are not even entirely sure about Mattie’s feelings toward Ethan until Zeena announces her decision o f hiring a new caretaker.
Wharton uses Mattie as a symbol of the goal Ethan cannot reach because of his circumstances. Ethan may paint her as the ethereal embodiment of nature and spring, the polar opposite of his cold and harsh self, but Wharton’s creation Matties is simply a twenty-year old girl who has nowhere to turn and not much going for her.
Mattie only gains dimension in the epilogue of the novel with relation to the prologue. From the doe-eyed, young girl Ethan tells about, Mattie becomes bloodless and shriveled — what Wharton had led us to believe to be describing Zeena. As readers, we suddenly question Ethan’s story, especially his portrayal of Mattie, more so than before. With this ending, readers realize that, like with treatment of her other characters, Wharton does not openly express her own judgement of these characters — she leaves that to us. Wharton tells the story to have us interpret it into what we find suitable. In her story, Mattie is the bright splash of color on Ethan’s stark canvas, Mattie simply fades to fit into the sharp, white background essential to Ethan’s life. Wharton placed Mattie in one too many winters and how we interpret her choices is unique to each one of us.