Ethan FromeEdith Wharton Introduction Background Discussion Starters
Ethan Frome: Introduction What happens if people miss a chance to find happiness? Will they get another chance? What if they don’t?
Ethan Frome: Introduction An unnamed narrator is spending the winter in a small New England town. The deep snow keeps people trapped inside and squashes most signs of life. There is little to do except to watch the other people in the town—and wonder about them.
Ethan Frome: Introduction One of the people he observes is Ethan Frome, a tall man with a dramatic limp and a scar on his face.
Ethan Frome: Introduction Ethan lives on a bleak, poor farm. He seems to have given up all personal interests and finds no joy in life.
Ethan Frome: Introduction He lives with his wife, Zeena, and her cousin, Mattie Silver—who is paralyzed. Both women seem unhappy and full of complaints about their situation in life.
Ethan Frome: Introduction What has happened to destroy these people’s lives? Why are they all trapped in misery?
Ethan Frome: Introduction The unnamed narrator tries to figure it out and offers his own version of a story…. Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie form a hopeless love triangle in which attempts to find happiness or to escape can only end in tragedy….
Ethan Frome: Background Ethan Frome is a frame story. • Story Two • Story One • Story One In a frame story, one story introduces another, and then returns at the conclusion.
Ethan Frome: Background The narrator begins the story with his own experiences, • Ethan’s story • Narrator’s life • Narrator’s life then describes what he thinks happened to Ethan Frome, and finally returns to his own perspective at the end of the novel.
Ethan Frome: Background Edith Wharton was born into a rich and socially prominent New York family in 1862. Her first novel, The House of Mirth, focused on the same wealthy and sophisticated society that she knew so well.
Ethan Frome: Background When Ethan Frome was published in 1911, some reviewers and readers were skeptical that Wharton could write realistically about poor farmers. Wharton responded that she wanted to show life as it really was in the poor villages of New England. She felt that many other writers had romanticized the poverty and toil that people in these towns faced.
Ethan Frome: Background In the 1880s, life for New England farmers was extremely difficult, filled with backbreaking labor for little reward. Life was often worse for their wives, who were extremely isolated, working at home alone with no television, radio, or telephone.
Ethan Frome: Background Despite her wealth, Wharton’s life was also difficult in many ways. Her husband did not appreciate her writing, embezzled money from her to spend on another woman, and was abusive and mentally unstable.
Ethan Frome: Background Eventually, Wharton took bold steps for a woman of her time and background: she left and eventually divorced her husband. She moved to Paris, where she had an affair of her own. She continued writing and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for her novel The Age of Innocence.
Ethan Frome: Discussion Starters • Discuss (1) • What other stories that you know contain a frame story? • Why do you think an author might choose to tell a story in this way?
Ethan Frome: Discussion Starters • Discuss (2) • Have you ever made up the life story of someone you’ve observed? Why did you want to do so? • Even if a story is based on some facts, do you think you could ever know what really happened? Why or why not?