Essay Sample on Ethan Frome: The Analysis of Metaphors and Imagery

Posted on January 15, 2010

There are various instances of imagery in Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton uses metaphors throughout the entire book. I noticed many but two particular ones were most prominent. The symbolism helps develop the characters in the book. It helps pull us into the book making us feel as if we are truly there.

The first metaphor that I noticed was how the color red was brought up in the entire book. Edith Wharton used many different shades of red in describing objects in the novel. Each time that red is used it symbolizes something different. The opening red metaphor that was brought up in the book is when Ethan is waiting for Mattie so that they can walk home. I think that by the way he is looking and thinking about her, the red scarf in her hair is representing lust. It may not be deep lust towards her but more of a hopeful desire. The next thing that we see is Mattie blushing. Many times when Ethan and Mattie are together, her face will turn crimson. They both are secretly in love with each other so she feels self-conscious when she is with him.

A different time that red is in Ethan Frome is Mattie’s quilt. Ethan is the person who notices the quilt is red. Edith Wharton is yet again symbolizing his love and desire to be with her. Being with Mattie is all that he can fantasize about. Ethan is so in love with her that he notices every little detail about her and her lifestyle. I think that because her quilt is something personal it is symbolizing how Ethan wishes to be in a more personal part of her life. However, he knows that his desires are not possible because of Zeena. Another instance in the book where red appears is when Ethan remembers the summer picnic him and Mattie attended together soon after she arrived at Starkfield. Ethan reminds Mattie that she was wearing a pink hat. Edith Wharton is trying to show because pink is an early shade of red it is symbolizing the early stage of Ethan and Mattie’s love for each other. It was more like a warm friendship that they were beginning to develop.

The last metaphor for the color red was the pickle dish. I think that the pickle dish represents Ethan. The pickle dish is one of Zeena’s most important things but she keeps it hidden and unused on a top shelf. She does the same thing with Ethan. It does not even seem like they are married because they hardly communicate and he is just like a possession to her. Then while Zeena is gone, Mattie gets it down from the shelf with out asking. That stands for how Zeena considers Mattie taking Ethan away from her. The pickle dish is broken unintentionally and when Mattie and Ethan try to hide it, Zeena finds out. The metaphor for that is that Mattie and Ethan try to hide their love for each other and Zeena suspects it.

The second important use of imagery in Ethan Frome is the pet cat. When Zeena goes to see the doctor and Mattie and Ethan are having their one night alone together the cat always seems to come between them. I see Zeena as the pet cat. She is there to remind them that Ethan is married and it would be wrong for him to do anything with Mattie. “They drew their seats up to the table, and the cat, unbidden, jumped between them into Zeena’s empty chair.”(Page 83) Then when they are about to have a close moment together holding hands the cat jumps up on to the table and knocks off the forbidden pickle dish. I think that this symbolizes Zeena’s efforts to separate Mattie and Ethan from each other. In addition, when they are sitting by the fire alone together Ethan is feeling hopeful that something will happen but then the cat jumps up into Zeena’s rocking chair. This reminds Ethan of his wife. It is a small thing but it ruins the moment completely.

Edith Wharton makes good use of imagery in Ethan Frome. You can see many different things as symbols. I think that each one helps refine and enhance each character to a point where you can really think how they are thinking and more fully understand them personally. I enjoyed this book and all of the author’s metaphors.

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