The Narrator In Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

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Readers may not always be aware of the careful consideration involved in the narrative aspect of literature, but its significance should not be overlooked, for narration can play an enormous role in the development and reception of a novel. First, second, or third person. Limited or omniscient. Objective or subjective. All are components of that which constitutes a narrator, and all have the ability to dramatically alter the manner in which a story is relayed to the audience. In the novel Ethan Frome, author Edith Wharton conveyed the tale of her protagonist’s tragic life in Starkfield, Massachusetts through a limited first-person narrator for the prologue and conclusion of the novel and a limited third-person narrator for the chapters detailing…show more content…
After all, the narrator “began to piece together this version of the story” through information given to him by Ethan Frome. Of course Zeena appears to be the epitome of the quintessential antagonist. It is only natural that bias was introduced, for Ethan would certainly not paint himself in a negative light, and due to his infatuation with Mattie, she too is spared from any condemnation. Through no fault of Ethan Frome or the narrator, the narrator’s “piecing together” of Ethan Frome’s life is incredibly unreliable and it is incredibly subjective. Unless a reader mulls over the effects of utilizing certain types of narration, Zeena will forever be seen as the villain of the story. With this in mind, it is only after realizing the value of Mrs. Hale’s truthful comments that a reader can understand how impactful narration is on the telling of a story. Where Ethan Frome’s words to the narrator were most likely dripping with his predilection for self-preservation, the narrator’s first-person account of Mrs. Hale’s objectivity on the matter ensured that the redeeming qualities of Zeena’s character were not entirely cast…show more content…
Again, because the narrator only knew information provided to him by Ethan himself, the opportunity for less than accurate information to be given to the narrator is very probable. As noted literary critic Gary Scharnhorst illuminated in his piece, “The Two Faces of Mattie Silver”, it can be effectively argued that any feelings of love bubbling within Ethan were not reciprocated by Mattie. Scharnhorst contends that there are several instances throughout the novel where the choice of diction reveals Ethan’s distorted sense of reality. For example, Ethan fancied that his arm “...was faintly pressed against her side,” when he picked Mattie up from the church. Ethan did not tell the narrator that his arm was touching Mattie in such a way. He was merely under the impression that their bodies were in contact in such a way. Later, when Ethan inched his hand toward the material with which Mattie was sewing, the"faint vibration of her lashes seemed to show that she was aware of his gesture…” (Wharton 70). Her eyelashes seemed to show that she recognized his gesture. In both cases, and throughout the entirety of the novel, it appeared that Ethan was not entirely in touch with reality. Due to the equivocal nature of Ethan’s recounting to the narrator, there is little concrete evidence to support the notion that Mattie was in love with Ethan.
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