Ethan Frome Questions and Answers
by Edith Wharton

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What are some examples of local color in the novel Ethan Frome?

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You might want to start by considering the description that the narrator of this story gives us of Starkfield and in particular the vivid description that he gives us of winter there. For example, note how experiencing a winter there gives the narrator an insight into what Ethan Frome's life must have been like when he was young:

But when winter shut down on Starkfield and the village lay under a sheet of snow perpetually renewed from the pale skies, I began to see what life there--or rather its negation--must have been in Ethan Frome's young manhood.

Consider the way that the interminable winter season is described, and in particularly the way that winter "shuts down" on Starkfield and the "sheet of snow" is "perpetually renewed" from the pale skies. Rather than providing colour, this shows the absence of colour and the strange, white paleness that dominates Starkfield during winter.

The narrator goes on to provide further examples of the local colour, giving us a real sense and feeling for what life in Starfield must have been like:

Day by day, after the December snows were over, a blazing blue sky poured down torrents of light and air on the white landscape, which gave them back an intenser glitter. One would have suppposed that such an atmosphere must quicken the emotions as well as the blood; but it seemed to produce no change except that of retarding still more the sluggish pulse of Starkfield.

The narrator comes to understand why the people of Starkfield emerges from its "six months' siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter." Such descriptions give us a real sense of the local colour and in particular the way that the harsh winters shaped so much of the life at Starkfield.

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