The Role of Symbolism for Plot Development in “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton
“Ethan Frome” can give ambiguous impressions. On one side, the beginning is very intriguing. The events take place in a distant place located somewhere in New England. We are shown an old gloomy disabled person named Ethan Frome, who doesn’t communicate with anybody. But what mystery is hidden in his past? What has happened to once handsome guy and turned him to a cripple? The way the novel starts implies real drama, passions, adventures, and trials. But, despite of all the expectations, we are shown a boring chain of events that leads to the fatal contingence (Jason Ihle 2012). In his dreams, Ethan is about to give up everything and run away with his beloved woman. But as he wakes up, the sinister life reminds him that he will have to stay at his place forever.
On the other hand, throughout the story we meet a lot of symbols that help to reinforce the plot development. Let us take a look at some of them.
The first thing I would like to mention is a chest with clothes. At first, Ethan’s wife Zeena was trying to move it after his mother’s death, then Mattie was doing the same. This chest is a symbol of affection emerging in the hearts of young people. After this very moment we understand that Zeena and Ethan are going to be together, since one can easily notice a sparkle between them. Next, Mattie is leaving the house with this chest; out of this, we can make a conclusion that this is the end and the beginning simultaneously (White B. 1995).
The other symbol that should be mentioned is the broken bowl. It was broken by a cat at night, when Mattie and Ethan succumbed to temptation for the first time. The relationship of Ethan and Zeena was broken that night together with that glass bowl.
Ethan complained several times that a fox comes to his henhouse and kills chicken. It started to happen approximately at the same time as Mattie appeared in their house. She didn’t kill anybody, of course, but she was actually the reason of broken family, and this is a direct correlation between her and the aforementioned fox. It is hard to blame her, because Ethan was unhappy with Zeena, and Mattie just appeared in the right place the right time. So, the fox continues its raids to henhouse and Mattie continues to live at her relative’s place. The day when Zeena understood everything and turned Mattie out, the fox was killed. (Edwin Bjorkman 1915).
A poison that Ethan hid in the henhouse is another symbol. Mattie was about to take it, but her lover prevented that. Still, the deadly danger was too close to them; they should be very careful, but they were not. The same day they became very close to death again, after the collision. This incaution turned Ethan to a cripple, Mattie to a disabled woman, and so the three of them have to share common grief; to bear it, they started to live under one roof and to take care of each other.