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Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome

by Edith Wharton

Transformation Theme

The characters in Ethan Frome are particularly marked by the physical transformations they undergo. These physical changes give us hints of depths of the inner transformations taking place. Through the course of the story, we learn how title character Ethan Frome transformed from a healthy young man with dreams and aspirations into a man with severe spinal injury, a suspicious "red gash" on his forehead (Prologue.4), and no hope for a happy future. Ethan's wife Zeena also makes transformations, going back and forth between being sick and healthy all the time. We also see American society in a moment of major transformation, moving rapidly toward modernity. Starkville, Ethan's fictional town, is set just outside this movement. In fact, technology and modernization are not only kept just out of Ethan's reach, but also contribute to his dire transformation.

Questions About Transformation

  1. Who transforms the most in the story? Who transforms the least?
  2. Are the characters' physical transformations connected to inner transformations? If so, how?
  3. When the narrator visits Starkfield, how has it changed from when Ethan was a young man?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Even though Ethan suffers an awful physical transformation and has his dreams crushed, his basic kindness remains intact.

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