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Examples of irony in Ethan Frome

Summary:

Irony in Ethan Frome includes Ethan's desire for freedom leading to his entrapment. He dreams of escaping his oppressive life with Zeena but ends up more confined due to the sledding accident. Another example is Zeena's transformation from a sickly wife to a caretaker, reversing roles with Mattie, who becomes the invalid after the accident.

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What is an example of dramatic irony in Ethan Frome?

Dramatic irony is a literary situation in which the author provides the reader with more information than some of the characters, which often evokes fear, suspense, and pity for the characters as we watch them fall helplessly into situations without being able to advise or forewarn them. One notable instance of dramatic irony in Wharton’s novella arises in chapter four after Zeena’s cat knocks her owner’s prized pickle dish off of the dinner table. Mattie used the pickle dish, which was a wedding present for Zeena and Ethan, against Zeena’s knowledge or permission. The reader knows that the pickle dish is broken beyond repair, yet Zeena does not (at least until she comes home from her overnight stay at the doctor’s), which creates dramatic irony. The readers wait in suspense along with Ethan and Mattie to see if Zeena will discover the broken pickle dish, and with it, the secret of Ethan and Mattie’s secret love for each other.

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What is an example of dramatic irony in Ethan Frome?

I would identify the ironic elements in Ethan Frome as follows:

First, it may not be too much of a case of "present-ism," that is, judging the past by our present-day standards, to say it's ironic that Ethan and Mattie, in discovering their mutual love, decide that the solution is to commit suicide together—if we can, indeed, be sure that this is their intention. In the social and physical conditions of their time they believe, perhaps correctly, that it's impossible for them to be united. Yet even in a story that takes place over a hundred years ago, one wonders if the desperation of their behavior is justified.

The second, and perhaps more central, irony is that in their attempt to escape from an unhappy situation, they end up crippling themselves, and therefore make their lives more unhappy and hopeless than any alternative would have been. It is as if, especially in Mattie's case, they have condemned themselves to a kind of living death.

An additional point I would mention is that it's ironic Zeena ends up becoming essentially the caretaker for both of them, while throughout most of the story she has been the one who appears to be ill and is in constant need of medical treatment of one kind or another.

The setting of the story is one of an unrelievedly bleak and eternal landscape of sadness in the New England of the time. Frome himself, in his youth, seems a man of boundless ability and courage, and the older Ethan, as well, in dealing with his crippled condition, shows an almost supernatural kind of persistence and power. That such a man ends up defeated is perhaps the greatest irony in Edith Wharton's novella.

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What is an example of dramatic irony in Ethan Frome?

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton uses a good deal of irony to its advantage. In literature, we generally talk about 3 different types of irony— verbal, situational, and dramatic. We define dramatic irony as an instance when a viewer/reader of a story knows or understands something that the characters don't. 

The most obvious point of dramatic irony in this story takes place when Ethan and Mattie are contemplating/attempting killing themselves because they cannot be together. They are so caught up in their complicated relationship that they cannot see that suicide is not their only option for happiness, but anyone reading the story can see otherwise—thus creating a situation where the reader knows better than a character. Dramatic irony here is a very effective tool for conveying just how much Ethan and Mattie are willing to give up for each other. 

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What is an example of dramatic irony in Ethan Frome?

An example of irony in Ethan Frome is Zeena valuing her pickle-dish too much to ever use it. Many people set out their most prized china only on special occasions. But Zeena declares that she "set most store by [it] . . . and wouldn't never use it, not even when the minister come to dinner or Aunt Martha Pierce come over from Bettsbridge" (chapter 7). She is saying, in effect, that she "sets too much store" by her pickle-dish to set it out for the kind of meal a treasured dish should be saved for. Her behavior could remind readers of the apostle Mark's question "Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel . . . and not to be set on a candlestick?" (Mark 4:21, King James Bible).

Since Zeena's pickle-dish, or "candle," was a wedding present, her real treasure may be her marriage. But whenever she is with Ethan, she either complains about her "ailments" or talks formally about mundane matters. She thereby locks her love inside her just as she hides her wedding present in the china-closet.

Zeena probably thinks that hiding her affection from Ethan keeps him from shattering it. But it is her cold, businesslike manner that makes another woman's warmth and cheer so attractive to him. For example, when Zeena is away, Mattie's eye-pleasing supper table fills him with a "sense of well-being" (chapter 6). He is probably delighted to see his favorite pickles in "a dish of gay red glass" (the pickle-dish) after Zeena had put the pickles in an empty medicine bottle.

In the scene in which Zeena discovers her pickle-dish is broken, there is a strong implication that Mattie is the "cat" that "got into the china-closet" and "chased a 'mouse' (Ethan) around all evening" (chapter 7). Her sobbing after telling Mattie "you've took from me the one I cared for most of all" suggests she has lost "one" she holds much dearer than a piece of china.

Zeena concludes that her prized wedding present has been destroyed because she has not preserved it well enough. But she has lost her true treasure, her joy in her marriage, because she has failed to show it. Her efforts to guard the light of her life under a bushel have allowed a rival to strike it out.

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What are three examples of irony in Ethan Frome?

This novel is filled with different types and examples of irony.  The most obvious examples are found within the ending of the novel.  It is great situational irony that Ethan intends to commit suicide with Mattie, but ends up merely crippling both of them.  This seems worse than death, especially considering the ironic change in Mattie's behavior.  Where she once was a light and caring person, she has aged into a bitter and cantakerous older woman who is miserable her in wrecked body and wrecked life.

It is ironic that the once very feeble and sickly Zeena is now the strong and capable woman at the end of the novel. It would seem that she is very able-bodied when she needs to be.  Once Ethan and Mattie need her to care for them, she rises to the occasion.  It is a revisiting of the plot element that brought her to the Fromes in the first place.  She is caring for an invalid again.

It is ironic that Ethan was unwilling to leave Zeena and run away with Mattie, but his choice is now a double punishment because he is still with Zeena, but he also has to daily face the invalid Mattie and a) remember what she used to be to him, and b) put up with her negatively changed behavior.

Other ironic occurances: 

1.Mattie only reveals that she loves Ethan when he driving her out of town to catch a train.  It seems to suggest a manipulative nature in Mattie, but it ends up destroying them both. 

2. Ethan only asks Zeena to marry him because he can't bear to face a winter alone.  If his mother had died in spring or summer, he would likely have returned to school and left Starkfield for good.

The list could obviously go on, but these are a few big and small ideas to get you started! 

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