In the rural Berkshires where Ethan Frome is set, the characters are at the mercy of nature. The short New England growing season and thin mountain soils discouraged large-scale agriculture, ensuring that most farms, like the Frome farm, allowed for only "subsistence" farming that prevented farm owners from overcoming poverty. In addition, as Harmon Gow's comment that Ethan has "been in Starkfield too many winters" suggests, the prolonged and brutal winters of the region had a profound effect on the personalities of the inhabitants of rural villages, resulting in reserved social behavior, a tendency toward pathological illness (especially in women), and a sense of disconnectedness from the larger world.
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The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Hostile or Indifferent Nature appears in each chapter of Ethan Frome. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Below you will find the important quotes in Ethan Frome related to the theme of Hostile or Indifferent Nature.
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.
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.
Chapter 8 Quotes
The early mist had vanished and the fields lay like a silver shield under the sun. It was one of the days when the glitter of winter shines through a pale haze of spring. Every yard of the road was alive with Mattie's presence, and there was hardly a branch against the sky or a tangle of brambles on the bank in which some bright shred of memory was not caught. Once, in the stillness, the call of a bird in a mountain ash was so like her laughter that his heart tightened and then grew large; and all these things made him see that something must be done at once.
Chapter 9 Quotes
Her sombre violence constrained him: she seemed the embodied instrument of fate. He pulled the sled out, blinking like a night-bird as he passed from the shade of the spruces into the transparent dusk of the open. The slope below them was deserted. All Starkfield was at supper, and not a figure crossed the open space before the church. The sky, swollen with the clouds that announce a thaw, hung as low as before a summer storm. He strained his eyes through the dimness, and they seemed less keen, less capable than usual.