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Literary Realism in Ethan Frome

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The history of literary realism dates back to the nineteenth century movement in America and European literature. Literary realism accurately represents situations, in an everyday world.

In the book Ethan Frome, you can tell that Edith Wharton portrays realistic points of view. She does this by describing the town of Starkfield, its specific shops, and the people who inhabit the town. She also describes the population of Starkfield with great care and gives them specific characteristics that a casual observer would notice if they were in the company of these people. Edith Wharton also describes not just the situations the people of Starkfield find themselves in, but also how the situation came to pass and how each person eventually feels about being in that circumstance.

Edith Wharton describes what the landscape looks like in that part of the country during the winter months. “Day by day, after the December snows were over, a blazing blue sky poured down torrents of light and air on the white landscape, which gave them back an intenser glitter”(3). This particular description of the snows in this part of the country describes a simple fact in a manner that the reader can understand and eventually come to, not just acknowledge, but deepen their own sense that this could be a factual tale.

The author continues to add to the realism by the expressive emotions of the characters and how they react to one another. “‘Then you don’t want to leave us, Matt?’ He had to stoop his head to catch her stifled whisper: ‘Where’d I go, if I did?’ The answer sent a pang through him but the tone suffused him with joy. He forgot what else he had meant to say and pressed her against him so closely that he seemed to feel her warmth in his veins”(21). This passage shows that Ethan cares for Mattie and is concerned for her. After he puts a simple question to her about staying on or leaving, he has mixed emotions about her answer and the tone with which she answered. He forgets the rest of the conversation and wants to comfort her, which adds to the naturalistic style of the narrative.

Literary realism also needs to have depictions of situations that could occur and how the characters would react to them. “The two leaned forward at the same moment and their hands met on the handle of the jug. Mattie’s hand was underneath, and Ethan kept his clasped on it a moment longer than was necessary. The cat, profiting by this unusual demonstration, tried to effect an unnoticed retreat, and in doing so backed into the pickle-dish, which fell to the floor with a crash”(35). This passage by the author begins a series of cause and effects that drives the story forward in a “matter of fact” manner. The effect of the cat knocking over the dish causes Mattie to immediately rush to clean up the broken dish. Her reaction then eventually causes Ethan to hide the evidence of the accident where it could go unnoticed for weeks.

In conclusion after evaluating Edith Wharton’s book “Ethan Frome”, the author has demonstrated literary realism by describing not just realistic locales, but also the people and how they interact with each other in a realistic manner.

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