Ethan Frome

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The Narrator Character Analysis

An engineer who is temporarily residing in Starkfield while assigned to work at a nearby power plant, and who is sympathetic to Ethan's troubles. Wharton's use of a narrator who is an outsider in the community contributes to the suspense of the tale, as the narrator tries to reconstruct the tragedy from a few direct observations and details provided by Mrs. Ned Hale and Harmon Gow. Wharton also intended the narrator to serve as a bridge between her "simple" characters and the sophisticated readers who were the audience for her novels.

The Narrator Quotes in Ethan Frome

The Ethan Frome quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Ethan Frome published in 2005.
Prologue Quotes
When I had been there a little longer, and had seen this phase of crystal clearness followed by long stretches of sunless cold; when the storms of February had pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of March winds had charged down to their support; I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months' siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter.
Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator here observes for himself the conditions of Starkfield winters that last for six months before the town's inhabitants are finally given the relief of spring. He compares the winter’s relentless force to a siege in wartime that slowly starves the defending soldiers (the town's inhabitants). In a way, this kind of condition is worse than a single, ruthless attack -- rather than quick death (or the possibility of glorious victory), a siege is bigger than any one individual's attempt to face it down, and it drains the energy from all those facing it.

Ethan’s life in Starkfield thus becomes associated with a never-ending war against the elements. In addition, with the metaphor of a garrison “capitulating,” the theme of defeat and despondency returns. While the war of winter may end every year, it is not triumphant or victorious, because the inhabitants know it will return in a matter of months, wearing them down over long periods of time, and starving them of life-force and energy, year after year.

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He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters.
Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ethan Frome, Harmon Gow
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

During the narrator’s daily drives with Ethan, he isn’t able to learn much about his past due to Ethan’s reserved nature. As they travel outside through the melancholy landscape, the narrator observes Ethan’s similarities to this environment: they are both apparently barren and desolate, but the narrator suspects that a hidden warmth and spark lie deep underneath Ethan’s cold exterior, just as fertile grass lies in wait under snow. The result of Ethan’s having lived for his whole life in such a landscape enacts an unbreakable connection between the two, such that Ethan’s apparently unchangeable fate is fundamentally shaped by his environment of relentless stability and harshness. Ethan’s personality alone doesn’t determine his shyness with the narrator, but rather his “personal plight” leading to his personality has been a product of a life lived in an unrelenting environment.

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The Narrator Character Timeline in Ethan Frome

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in Ethan Frome. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
An unnamed Narrator, an engineer assigned to a job at a power plant in Corbury Junction, Massachusetts, describes... (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
A strike at the power plant extends the Narrator's stay in Starkfield through the winter. The Narrator observes the effect of the harsh climate... (full context)
The Narrator hopes to learn more about Ethan's story from his landlady, Mrs. Ned Hale (formerly Ruth... (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Work, Industry and Progress Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
...livery stable owner Denis Eady's horses fall ill from an epidemic, Gow suggests that the Narrator hire Ethan to drive him to the train station and back every day. Gow explains... (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Work, Industry and Progress Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
Although Ethan says little as he drives the Narrator to the station, the Narrator learns that Ethan is interested in engineering, and lends him... (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Work, Industry and Progress Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
One day, a severe winter storm blocks the railroad. Ethan drives the Narrator the full ten miles to the power station, along a road that passes by the... (full context)
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
On the way home the storm worsens and Ethan and the Narrator are forced to take shelter at the Frome farm. As they enter the house, the... (full context)
Chapter 1
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
The Narrator's "vision" of Ethan Frome's story , told in the third person, begins. It is winter... (full context)
Epilogue
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Work, Industry and Progress Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
The frame story resumes in the first-person voice of the Narrator. As he and Ethan enter the dark sparsely-furnished farmhouse kitchen, the whining voice grows silent.... (full context)
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Work, Industry and Progress Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
...out, and that while it was out she thought she would freeze to death. The Narrator realizes that it was she who was speaking when he entered the room. Ethan introduces... (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
Back in Starkfield the next morning the Narrator reveals to Mrs. Ned Hale and old Mrs. Varnum that he has spent the night... (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
The Narrator comments that life must be horrible for them all. Mrs. Hale agrees, but says she... (full context)