Ethan Frome takes place in Starkfield, a village in the Berkshires. The name of the village appropriately suggests the bleak, barren atmosphere of this novella. The three main characters find themselves controlled by the constraints of poverty, Puritanism, and the harsh physical realities of rural New England. In Ethan Frome the season always seems to be winter.
Passion and repression are the main themes of Ethan Frome. The three main characters are passionate beings, their unexpressed feelings sharply contrasting with the austerity of their surroundings and the severity of their manners. In this atmosphere, the most unassuming remark is charged with significance and emotion.
Another important theme concerns the youthful desire for escape and freedom, and the adult acceptance of responsibility and care. As a young man, Ethan Frome had hoped to free himself from the burdens of a family property that could barely support him and his wife, but by the age of twenty-eight he finds himself saddled with a hypochondriacal wife, a mortgage, and an unprofitable business. When he dreams of running away with Mattie Silver, he recognizes that he lacks even the means to purchase the two railway tickets. Nor will he leave his sickly wife with an estate that can not provide a living for her. Like many other Wharton characters, he finds himself trapped in circumstances from which he sees no escape.
(The entire section is 227 words.)