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Analysis Of A Self-Reliant Man In Wharton's Ethan Frome

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In the novel Ethan Frome, written by Edith Wharton, Ethan, the main protagonist, encounters numerous challenges relating to his love life, social life, and personal life. Ethan’s actions could be analyzed through his decision-making process and used to display him as a self-reliant man. Self-reliance can be defined using criteria laid out by Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American transcendentalist philosopher, in his essay, “Self-Reliance”. Emerson writes about a checklist containing four primary attributes of a self-reliant person. The first necessary characteristic of a self-reliant person is the ability to exclusively fight for causes which s/he believes in. Secondly, one cannot be self-reliant if s/he is afraid of contradicting her/himself. Additionally,…show more content…
In his essay about self-reliance, Emerson writes, “Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.” (Pg. 5) In this quotation, Emerson clarifies a misconception that he believes is generally accepted among people. He explains that a person’s contradicting her/his previous decision is not a negative action. It is actually healthy for a person to have enough confidence to change her/his mind. This quality of a self-reliant individual is exemplified by Ethan in the novel Ethan Frome. As Ethan leaves his mother’s funeral, Wharton writes, “...when he saw her [Zeena] preparing to go away, he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on the farm; and before he knew what he was doing he had asked her to stay there with him. He had often thought since that it would not have happened if his mother had died in spring instead of winter…” (Pg. 29) In this quotation, Wharton highlights the fact that Ethan is unhappy with his original decision to marry Zeena. When Ethan asks Zeena to marry him, his desire for her is out of loneliness due to his mother’s death. Later on in the novel, however, Ethan realizes that he does not love Zeena and that he wants to begin a relationship with Mattie. Ethan has the choice to discard his true feelings, stay married to Zeena, and forget about Mattie. Despite this opportunity to avoid divorce and hardships, Ethan agrees to commit suicide together with Mattie in order for them to live happily in their afterlife together. Ethan is confident and knows what he wants out of his relationships, which helps him complete the second component of self-reliance according
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