"I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story."
This opening paragraph encapsulates the main ideas of my presentation today. How reliable is the narrator in Edith Wharton's novel, Ethan Frome?
Edith Wharton uses the narrator's sketchy account of Ethan Frome's life to generate mystery and insecurity in the story. She uses the nameless engineer as a device to deliberately establish a feeling of uncertainty, as well as creating suspense for the reader. Through the collaboration of each version of Ethan Frome, including in the end the narrator's version, he and his life seem more of a myth than anything real.
Wharton has structured the novel out of chronological sequence, as the prologue and epilogue, which form the outer frame, are some twenty years after the central story. The prologue and epilogue are written in the first person as an outsider to the lives of the key characters narrates the story. The Narrator, an engineer, has been forced to remain in Ethan Frome's town of Starkfield for the winter while on a job and, like any newcomer, is curious about its inhabitants. The greatest curiosity is built around the most mysterious of characters: Ethan Frome.
In the beginning the narrator describes Ethan as being "a careless powerful" man who is "stiffened and grizzled". This creates quite a negative image of the character. He uses a dismissive tone when he says he "took him for an old man", even though he was not more than fifty-two. This initial observation from the narrator is harsh and insensitive because he has no knowledge of the struggles Ethan has had to overcome. It also gives the reader a false impression of the main character before the central story has begun.
The Narrator expresses his interest in Ethan to his new acquaintances in the town, Harmon Gow and Mrs Ned Hale. He hopes to relieve his curiosity by finding the key to Ethan's story that...