Ethan Frome: a Literary Soap Opera

One may look to All My Children to get his or her daily drama, but if one wants a the true Jerry Springer experience, then an hour or two must be contributed to reading into the sex, scandal, and sin of Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome is a novel using symbols for lies, lust, and love. Wharton’s personal life takes form in the symbols of Ethan Frome.   Her life was one filled with sexual dissatisfaction in her marriage and scandal when she had an affair. Wharton uses symbols for sex and tragedy to illustrate her personal life.
In Ethan Frome, readers are faced with watching Ethan and Zeena’s marriage slowly malfunction and fall apart at the seams.   The shattering of their marriage is symbolized through the pickle dish on which Mattie serves dinner to Ethan.   The pickle dish is an item that Zeena cherishes.   It was a wedding gift from her aunt and she keeps it up on the top shelf on the china cabinet so nothing can happen to it.   This indicates that Zeena appreciates her marriage with Ethan and does not want anyone to harm it.   Then Mattie, the interloper who would reintroduce sexuality to Ethan's life, takes the pickle dish down and, as a result, falls from the table and shatters.   This symbolizes how Mattie’s interference in Ethan’s marriage caused Zeena and him to fall apart.   “Once it is broken, it represents Mattie and Ethan’s disloyalty.”   Wharton also uses these symbols to provide a glimpse into her personal life.   Wharton’s disloyalty to her husband, his “diagnosis as a manic depressive and his increasing instability” led to the couple’s divorce in 1913” (Wolff).   Wharton’s scandal lies, and eventual downfall of her marriage parallels that of Ethan’s sin.
Edith Wharton uses the color “red” to symbolize sex, scandal and affection throughout the entirety of Ethan Frome.   It is whenever Ethan and Mattie are alone together that Mattie is described as having some red object somewhere on her frame. For example, when Ethan and Mattie are outside the...