Ethan Frome Questions and Answers
by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome book cover
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In Ethan Frome, what does the behavior imply about New Englanders’ attitudes toward outsiders? In thw story's beginning, the narrator says that each person's story about Ethan Frome was different. Later he describes the reluctance of the townspeople to discuss the story.

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This question relates explicitly to the whole question of point of view and narration, which is particularly interesting in this book. Firstly, because the narrator is an outsider of Starkfield who is almost like an intruder, entering this bleak, wintery village and therefore seeing it and the events of the story with the eye of an outsider. Secondly, what is interesting about the narration of this story is the way that the beginning of the story occurs at the end of the chronological story, if that makes sense. We start off knowing about the "smash-up" that Ethan suffered, and then go back to the beginning of the story as the narrator pieces together all that he has learned from the residents.

I personally think that the reason why all of the residents offer the narrator a different story is that, in such a bleak and remote setting, each of them will have known the three principal characters in different ways and will come up with their own ideas about what happened and why. Starkfield is described as a very insular and remote place in the novel, where characters, like the setting itself, are often frozen and remote figures who have become like this in order to survive the cold and harsh winters. Secondly, the fact that the narrator has pieced together his account stresses the subjective nature of the narrative we are privy to. There is no omnipotent, god-like narrator in this story. We are left, like the narrator, as observers of what we see, and we have to try and piece together the action just like the narrator did.

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