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Ethan Lawson Wate is our sixteen-year-old narrator. So much young-adult fiction these days is narrated by a female protagonist, and you might expect the same from Beautiful Creatures, which is written by two talented ladies. But having a male narrator is one of the many interesting and different things Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl have done in their book. Even though Ethan doesn't have any magic powers (or does he?), he's just as intriguing as the characters that do.
Ethan's pretty good at everything. He's an excellent student. He's good at basketball. He's learning sign language and pottery (his high school offers an eclectic assortment of electives, don't you think?). He loves to read. (Swoon!) And he has a fantastic sense of smell. Seriously, this boy could pick up Lena's lemon and rosemary scent from ten miles away through a cloud of Febreze.
If Ethan actually existed, we might want to hate him. Smart, handsome, successful. Barf. But in Beautiful Creatures, he's likeable and relatable—the whole package.
Despite excelling at almost everything, Ethan still makes time to dream. He reads Vonnegut and Kerouac, Salinger and Krakauer, and he dreams of going to the real places within his favorite books. (We sure hope he doesn't suffer the same fate as the subject of Krakauer's Into the Wild, though. Eek.)
Ethan also has stacks and stacks of shoeboxes in his room. Each one holds little bits and pieces of life he collects every day—they remind him of his dreams and goals. (Lena does something similar, with the chain of memories around her neck. Actually, we feel like Ethan misses a bonding opportunity by not telling Lena about his shoeboxes. He's a collector, too! Maybe he just didn't want to share this with Lena because he feels like a packrat?)
Ethan spends a lot of time dreaming of an escape from Gatlin, but he doesn't have a concrete plan. We have no idea exactly what Ethan wants to do after graduation other than move. Does he want to go to college? Get a job? What do you think he would he be most successful at?
Other than these larger-than-life dreams, Ethan also dreams about girls—figuratively and literally. When he's awake, he's dreaming of finding a girl who's different from the vacuous bimbos that seem to populate his high school: "someone he could talk to about something other than parties and getting crowned at winter formal. A girl who was smart, or funny, or at least a decent lab partner. Maybe a girl like that was the real dream" (9.02.22-23). And when he's sleeping, well, that girl comes to life.
Being a dreamer often goes hand in hand with being curious—dreamers just want to know what's out there. And as a matter of fact, Ethan is driven by curiosity. When Lena wants to just let a matter go, Ethan wants to get the bottom of it, whether it's the cursed locket, finding the location of The Book of Moons, or digging up a hundred-year-old grave. How many of your friends would grab a shovel and dig up a grave without a second thought? (Hmm, maybe you shouldn't answer that.)
Why is Ethan so curious? Well, we think he's just a wee bit attracted to fear—and what's scarier than the unknown? Ethan is discovering a lot of things previously unknown to him in Gatlin. If Lena hadn't shown up, we wouldn't be surprised to see him bungee jumping or skydiving. In fact, Ethan often uses the word "terrifying" to describe situations he's in, even his love for Lena: "She was powerful and she was beautiful. Every day was terrifying, and every day was perfect" (11.27.3).
Evel Knievel, watch out. Ethan's in town.
So what's a dreamer and an adrenaline junkie like Ethan supposed to do with his days? Find a girl, of course. Lucky for Ethan, she comes to him.
Once Lena shows up, Ethan kind of stops dreaming about leaving Gatlin. We get the feeling he'll just go wherever Lena goes. In fact, he has kind of been Wate-ing around for her to show up. Er, we mean waiting around. After all, what else could Ethan Wate be waiting for?
Even though Lena's the girl of his dreams, they don't instantly click. Ethan's never been around a girl he likes before, and he acts like a jerk to her when they're stuck in his car together: "I started to feel claustrophobic. [...] I flipped up the hood of my basketball sweatshirt, the way Emory did when one of the girls he'd blown off tried to talk to him in the hall" (12.16.78). Then he pulls Lena's hair and pushes her into the mud. Just kidding, but Ethan is totally doing the juvenile guy thing of being mean to a girl he likes. Next up? Noogies.
There's another speed bump in Ethan and Lena's road to happiness. See, Ethan's a little conflicted about his social status. Lena is an outsider. Ethan, on the other hand, is an insider—he is part of Gatlin's popular clique. He's dated a cheerleader (even though he didn't like it), and he hangs out with all the cool kids on the basketball team. They seem to like Ethan, too. Well, at least until he starts spending all his time with that weirdo Lena Duchannes.
At first, it almost feels as though Ethan wants to change Lena. When Lena tells him that she can do more than other Casters, he thinks, "I wasn't sure how I felt about more. Less, I could have handled less. Less would've been good" (10.09.61). But to his credit, he turns around pretty quickly. For Lena, he's all in, no matter where she takes him.
If Ethan's "all in" with Lena, he doesn't have anything left for anybody else, right? What does Ethan do with his friends when he falls in love?
There's a crass rhyming motto a lot of guys go by to show their male solidarity. We forget exactly how it goes. Something about bros before garden tools. Ethan doesn't follow that motto: he picks Lena over his friends. But you know what? Shmoop thinks these kids are too narrow-minded and judgmental to be his friends, anyway. If anyone is a tool, it's Earl Petty and Emory Watkins.
Ethan makes the choice to go in a different direction than his friends: "You couldn't take two roads. And once you were on one, there was no going back" (9.15.54). Ethan is channeling Robert Frost here, in a way. "Two roads diverged in a wood": which one will Ethan take?
Drumroll please… he takes the "one less traveled by." Ethan doesn't take the well-trodden road that all the other Gatliners follow. That road is the road home, where nothing changes and everything stays the same (and is pretty redundant, too). That's also the road all of Ethan's ancestors took. And they've been in Gatlin since the Civil War.
Ethan takes the road less traveled by—the road that leads to Lena, her magical family, and an adventure beyond Ethan's imagination.
Things aren't all dating and young love for Ethan. In fact, he's had a pretty tough life. His mom died in a car accident before the book began, and we get the feeling that Ethan hasn't had time to come to terms with it yet. His dad sure hasn't.
We only get little snippets of Ethan's life with his mom. Ethan spends most of Chapter 12.19 trying to deal with her death. At Christmastime, he even tries to set out the little Christmas town that his mother loved, but most of the pieces have been lost. It's a moving image of memories fading.
Ethan copes with his loss by assuming that the mysterious force leaving clues for him and Lena is the ghost of his mother. For instance, Genevieve shows herself to Ethan when they dig up her grave, and she didn't know Ethan at all. Curious, indeed. But we never see Ethan's mom's ghost. Why do you think that is? And do you think Ethan's right about his mom, or is he just trying to comfort himself?
Ethan can't cast spells, he can't teleport, and he can't even see his own mother's ghost. He may not exactly be ordinary, but does he have any powers that could be considered extraordinary?
Drumroll please… oh wait. Nope. At this point, we have no idea if Ethan has powers or not. If he does, they're definitely not flashy ones like shooting lightning from his fingertips or changing a mop into a sword.
But Lena's family is surprised that "a Mortal [could] break a Sanguinis Circle" (10.31.219). They seem to think he does have power: "It's not the house that protects her. It's the boy" (10.31.231). Maybe his power is just his love for Lena. (Awww.) He loves her in a way no other Mortal does.
One last thing. Did you notice that Ethan is shockingly non-sexual for a sixteen-year-old guy? He doesn't even try anything with Lena. When he feels "that part of her [he] thought [he] would ever be able to reach, the part she kept closed off to the world," (2.11.280), he's talking about her heart.
You might think Ethan is a little more emotional than most sixteen-year-old boys. He also has a keen eye for fashion and pays a lot of attention to what Lena is wearing. And at the end of 10.09, Gathering Days, when everything is crashing down around him in Ravenwood, all Ethan can think about is how Lena just used the word "boyfriend" to describe him.
You make the call: is Ethan's wholesome charm completely unrealistic or just totally romantic?