How can I write a good summary of Ethan Frome?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An adequate summary of a novel explicates both character and plot with the two tied together by a theme. With regard to the tragic tale of  Ethan Frome, you may wish to tie together the plot and characters with a statement about Ethan Frome's life being much like what Henry David Thoreau described as a "life of quiet desperation" in an environment of equal desperation.  With the motif of desperation, then, you can mention the key moments in the plot in which Ethan is frustrated in his desires, how he acts out of desperation, and how he finally become resolved to his despairing existence.

Here is an guideline for writing a summary of a novel:

  1. Provide the basics of the story at the beginning:  Provide the names of the main characters, describing them and the setting in which they are.  Give a brief, quick description of the plot after describing the characters.

    e.g. A work in which characters live "lives of quiet desperation," Ethan Frome is a compelling work that finds Ethan in conflict with his loneliness and subjection to the most barren of conditions in his marriage to Zeena....

  2. Familiarize the reader with the characters by making them familiar through physical description along with character analysis.  (what types of characters are they?) Developing how Zeena and Mattie switch roles is important and weirdly interesting, for instance.
  3. Describe the major conflicts and how these conflicts affect the main characters. Be sure to include the climax and falling action.
  4. Discuss only key moments and make transitions between each key moment.
  5. Unless you are trying to persuade the reader to enjoy the book, be sure to include and explain the denouement, or resolution of the conflicts.
  • Remember to use the literary present in your composition of the summary (use present tense).
  • Keep your own opinion, interpretation, etc. out of the summary.
  • Remember to have a solid understanding of the novel before beginning.
  • Be sure to accurately represent Wharton's ideas and main points.
  • See the links below especially the one on "how to write a summary."


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Ethan Frome

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