Study Guide

Ethan Potter in The View from Saturday

By E. L. Konigsburg

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Ethan Potter

Like Noah and Nadia, Ethan spends part of the summer before sixth grade in Florida. Unlike Nadia and Noah, however, Ethan has his epiphany in Epiphany. (Well, you don't think Konigsburg chose the name of the town by accident, do you?)

The Magic Schoolbus Ride

Ethan isn't the most obvious candidate for a journeyer, since his family has lived in Clarion County "since before Epiphany was a town" ("Ethan".3). But the very first sentence of his story gives it away: "I am always the longest rider. I live farther from school than anyone else on my route. I board the bus first and get off last. I always have" ("Ethan".1).

We get, Ethan. You're on a journey. And just in case we don't, Mr. Singh lays it out for us: "Ethan took a little longer than the other two, yet his journey was the shortest. It was a ride on the school bus" (11.23).

So what is this magical journey that Ethan's on? Well, (1) part of it is puberty. We know this because Nadia describes him as a "healthy prepubescent" ("Nadia".22). But check out the way Ethan describes Nadia: "When she [Nadia] moved her head, the morning light caught in her hair the way the sun had when she turned her back to the ocean. Fringes of her hair framed her face in a halo. Whenever that halo effect happened, I wanted to stare at her until the sunlight stopped, but my heart stopped before the light did" ("Ethan".53).

Doesn't sound like there's much "pre" there at all. Sound like full-on pubescent to us.

More important, though, is (2): identity. When we meet Ethan, he's been living in the shadow of his older brother Luke. "Because my name is Potter but not Lucas," he says, "I have been a disappointment to every one of my teachers during my previous six years" ("Ethan".9). And just to drive it home: "I was the son who was scheduled to inherit the farm because Luke was scheduled for greater things" ("Ethan".73).

What Ethan learns to do, most simply, is let someone sit next to him on the school bus. See, he thinks he's preserving some sort of identity and integrity by keeping the seat to himself. But he's not. He's just ensuring that he always stays in his brother's shadow.

Backstage Star

What Ethan really wants, though, is to design. But "no one in Epiphany would believe that Ethan Potter wanted to go to New York City to work in the theater" ("Ethan".74). It's not that he wants to be up in front of the audience or anything. No—what he wants is to design costumes and sets. He wants to transform people and stages. He wants to work magic.

When you think about it, this makes total sense. All his life, Ethan has wanted to be something else. He doesn't want to be a Potter and live with the weight of history on his shoulders; he doesn't want to be a farmer; he doesn't want to live in Epiphany.

And so part of his journey is learning how to give voice to things that he does want to be. He's afraid to tell anyone what his hopes and dreams really are, because he knows that he's going to have to be "prepared to pay [his] own way" as soon as he does ("Ethan".78).

It's not like he manages to make that confession by the end of the novel. As far as we know, his mom still expects him to come sell pumpkins every Saturday at the Farmers' Market, and his dad still assumes he's going to take over the farm. But The Souls give him confidence. By being part of something greater—The Souls—Ethan learns to be himself. "Something in Sillington House," he says, "gave me permission to do things I had never done before" ("Ethan".258).

As he puts it more metaphorically, "Something there triggered the unfolding of those parts that had been incubating. Things that had lain inside me, curled up like the turtle hatchlings newly emerged from their eggs, taking time in the dark of their nest to unfurl themselves" ("Ethan".258).

So, we don't know for sure that Ethan is really going to end up designing costumes in New York City. But we can feel pretty confident that he's going to enter seventh grade sitting a little farther up near the front of the bus.

Ethan Potter in The View from Saturday Study Group

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