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Symbolism Essay – Ethan Frome


How does Wharton use symbolism to reinforce plot development in Ethan Frome?

Plot development is quite a tangled task when one is writing a story about the inner conflicts of certain characters. The Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” main conflict resolves around the protagonist Ethan finding the solution to the situation he got himself into. Symbol is an act, sound, or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response (Merriam-Webster). Nevertheless, the symbols that author uses help to direct the readers view to the specific details and move the plot further.

The very first symbol – is the red scarf, that Mattie wears, when she is presented to the reader and Ethan. The symbol in this case plays a very important role in the plot development – it immediately catches the reader’s attention, as red is a prominent color on the background of white and grey colors of winter. The symbol characterizes the new character and sets up the conflict on a sub-level, as reader notices Ethan’s obvious interest in the Mattie. Also, this symbol serves as a transition from the exposition (that serves just as a setting up of the whole story) to the presentation of one of the key characters (that, in its order, sets up the inner conflict of Ethan’s).

Another symbols are the pickle dish and the Zeena’s cat. Both those symbols help to reinforce the plot serving as the final mote in the long growing tune. The tension between two lovers is growing with every moment, as they dine alone to the point that it explodes — with the sound of a cat breaking the dish (Springer, 18).

Thus, the symbols in the Ethan Frome help to get the plot going, that is mostly focused on the inner conflicts and the tension between two protagonists. In this story, they serve as a transition between the various episodes, making the plot feel dynamic (especially in the scene with the broken dish).

Works Cited

Merriam-Webster Web Dictionary, www.merriam-webster.com. Accessed 13 October, 2017.

Springer, Marlene. Ethan Frome: A Nightmare of Need. Twayne Publishers, 1993.

Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. Scribner’s, 1991.

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