How does the narrator's imagery in Ethan Frome establish the reader's first impression of Ethan in Ethan Frome?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We are first introduced to Ethan Frome in the Prologue.  He is described as broken, yet still making an impact.

Even then he was the most striking figure in Starkfield, though he was but the ruin of a man. (Prologue)

Imagery is the way an author creates a picture in the reader's mind.  This is done through careful word choices designed to evoke feelings and ideas.

The imagery of “ruin of a man” and the diction of the word choice “striking” are significant here.  These two phrases are contrasting.  It helps underscore the point that although Ethan is down, he is not out.

He is described as tall, but with a “careless powerful look.”  This oxymoron is interesting here.  It is almost as though Ethan still holds on to parts of his past without really trying to.

There was something bleak and unapproachable in his face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that I took him for an old man and was surprised to hear that he was not more than fifty-two. (Prologue)

The use of the imagery of “bleak,” “stiffened,” and “grizzled” helps us picture a hardened man, but the image is also softened by the use of the word “surprised.”  This old man is hard and soft at the same time.  He is a study in contradiction.