dead letter office's Reviews > Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
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Apr 24, 09


** spoiler alert ** This is a romantic tragedy that culminates in a sledding accident. I will just say a few brief words about that. First, there is probably a reason that sledding accidents don't figure more prominently in tragedies. Shakespeare wrote like 13 tragedies and to the best of my knowledge none featured a sledding accident (I have not read Titus Andronicus, so I can't be sure). If Shakespeare doesn't need to include a sled wreck, then neither do you.

I will also say that I found Ethan and Mattie's attempted double suicide by sledding a little hard to take seriously. I mean, there are probably dozens of reasons that serious people don't rank sled-tree collisions on their Top 5 List of preferred suicide methods, but certainly the fact that adult doubles sledding is inherently ridiculous is one. Another that springs to mind is the unreliability of trying to kill yourself by sledding into a tree. Ethan ends up breaking his legs and paralyzing Mattie, which is pretty much the best you can realistically hope to do if you sled into a tree.

Really, I find it remarkable that Edith Wharton's reputation survived Ethan Frome and his sled antics. It makes me want to read House of Mirth, because it must be REALLY REALLY good.

As a side note, this is *exactly* the kind of ridiculous melodramatic bullshit I always had to read in high school. Teachers getting all worked up about the symbolism of the New England winter and failing to understand why 16-year-olds don't respond to the tragedy of star-crossed lovers doubling each other into a tree on a sled. Please.
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Comments (showing 1-28)




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Angie Just want to let you know, there's no sledding accident in Titus Andronicus. I actually really liked this book for the most part, but I'm with you concerning the sledding accident. Love the review.


Junkie for the Written Word Your review cracked me up. I, too, hate this book.


message 26: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Edwards Best review I've read in a long time. You're a riot.


Crushi I don't mean to be a literary snob but it's a fictional book. The main point of fiction isn't to be REAL. Of course, they characters do strange things... it's fiction. It's symbolism. Riding into an Elm tree is a symbol, just as the cat on Z's rocking chair, and the cat breaking the marriage dish, and the color red against the pale white of the cold winter.

It's not a documentary and it's not supposed to be "real" that is the beauty of fiction. You're not complaining that all of Shakespeare's plots are highly imaginative and not in the least "real". In most fiction it's called suspension of disbelief... only novice readers get hung up on "unrealistic" plot details... that's why it's called fiction.

If you want "real" stories read non-fiction or the news and take a literature course b/c you really don't know anything about fiction.

I'm not trying to be rude but you are way off... it's like someone complaining that Santa Claus is so fake...


dead letter office Santa Claus is a big fake. You obviously just like sleds.


message 22: by Tina (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tina As an English teacher, this piece of lit by Wharton is so merit-worthy from the teaching of symbolism and such as you have said. I feel sorry for you, though, that you didn't enjoy it. Most of my students leave the school year thinking it is one of the best reads they experienced in high school. And, yes, I agree that the use of the sledding accident as a method of suicide is a bit "unrealistic", especially when Wharton is categorized as an American realist. However, she is also portraying Ethan's stunted maturity. The fact that he goes through with it without thought of the true repercussions that most likely (and do) occur just drives home the point that he is such a stunted character.


dead letter office Tina wrote: "As an English teacher, this piece of lit by Wharton is so merit-worthy from the teaching of symbolism and such as you have said. I feel sorry for you, though, that you didn't enjoy it."

Like I said, you are not the first English teacher to have disagreed with me about this piece of lit.


Abby Whittredge As another English teacher,I whole heartedly agree with you! This book is worthless in a classroom because no one actually reads it. It doesn't matter how much symbolism the book has if the students only read the Cliff Notes.


message 19: by Iris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Iris Liu I'm currently a junior AP Eng student, and am proud to say I read this book in whole, and enjoyed it very much. Sure, I may have only read it because it's spring break and is easiest of the many tasks I must accomplish for my ridiculous english class over this break, but just wanted to make a point that if we're given enough time, we students would love to read these books. And yes this sledding fiasco almost ruined the story.


message 18: by Iris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Iris Liu I'm currently a junior AP Eng student, and am proud to say I read this book in whole, and enjoyed it very much. Sure, I may have only read it because it's spring break and is easiest of the many tasks I must accomplish for my ridiculous english class over this break, but just wanted to make a point that if we're given enough time, we students would love to read these books. And yes this sledding fiasco almost ruined the story.


Junkie for the Written Word I think what Abby meant was nobody WANTS to read it.

I'm sorry you enjoyed it. This does not bode well for your future.


Caitlyn I read this book in AP Lit 4 years ago.. it was awful. So bleak and barren and boring. I completely agree with your review.


Helen That was one terrific review! Everything you said was true. I just came to a different conclusion! I have a feeling that this story will be whirling in my head for a long time...


message 14: by Oleg (new) - rated it 2 stars

Oleg Kagan Yeah! Just yeah!!

And the symbolism in this book? The completely obvious, almost obligatory, nods to the type of tree and the cat, and the winter, etc. etc. etc. Just because a book has symbolism doesn't make it great, especially when the symbolism is so contrived. Ugh.


Michelle ...the part where you mentioned the fact that that high-school english teachers love this book to pieces because of its 'supposed' amazing symbolism: I. COMPLETELY. AGREE. We read this book in my Gr. 9 class, and apart from it being boring, the setting was monotonous, which mirrored the monotonous personalities of the characters- and the sledding accident was completely anticlimatic. Great review!


Melissa (ladybug) People have been killed by "Skiing" into trees, but I don't know about Sledding into one. :D


LeeAnn Awesome review from a very funny person!


Lynda Loved this review, but do read Titus Andronicus. It ends with what you might call a cooking accident that was no accident. When you get to the end imagine Titus in a chef's hat with a Hannibal Lecter smile.... It's a good read for those with a strong stomach.


Karen What's so great about symbolism anyway? Just say what you want to say outright so no one will have to decipher your meaning! There, I feel better now.


Karla Really, high school English classes have some of my most harrowing memories. Being informed by a total perv of a teacher that the boy in D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner" was masturbating himself into some kind of psychic visions will never go into the memory hole, no matter how much brain bleach I use, lo these 22 years later. O__o


message 7: by Lahim (new) - added it

Lahim Ballard I think Ethan perfectly symbolized an idiot. A sled into a tree was a perfect climax to represent how truly ridiculous the situation was and how poorly it was dealt with. I loved the book in High school and as an adult. I I've learned valuable lessons. Leave the mean wife. Get with the pretty girl. Don't try to kill yourself on a sled with a tree. My life has never been that bad, I'm so successful! Great review :-)


Johanna I know this was written a few years ago, but I must tell you that I am a 51 year old woman who was forced to read this book as a high school student as you suggested, and it is still high on my list of all-time terrible books to this day. The worst part of the book was that the sledding suicide was unsuccessful and therefore, the story continued.


message 5: by Cpn (new) - rated it 1 star

Cpn I completely agree with your review!! The book was terrible and it should've ended 100 pages before the end. There was no great love story because it ended with the paralyzation of the girl he loved and he was stuck with his wife.


Diane Condon-Boutier I had to finish it, although I was stunned that this poor guy had managed to convince himself that the only way out of his bleak existence was to have one last sledding fling. Am thankful to live a life with different parameters of thrill seeking. Still, the book is a success! Look at the lovely discussion it provokes, such vivid positioning of readers so many years later. Edith Wharton would be very proud!


Jennifer Dead letter office, I have to agree with you 100% about the sledding accident. Far-fetched at best, and poorly played out, in my opinion. How could Ethan's pragmatic sensibilities suddenly and unexpectedly allow him to make such a rash and impulsive decision? No, I'm not buying the "he was in love" cliche one bit. Disappointing to say the least. I'm with you on this opinion.


message 2: by Banys (new) - added it

Banys Hey douchebag, how about not spoiling the entire story in the very first line?!


message 1: by Banys (new) - added it

Banys Hey douchebag, how about not spoiling the entire story in the very first line?!


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