Saturday, February 06, 2010

Military Metaphor in Ethan Frome

In the novel Ethan Frome, the winter weather is a major character. The following passage from the opening chapter is a great example of how a writer uses metaphor to create images and to set a tone. In this case the picture is the besieged town of Starkfield, and the tone is one of the inhabitants being captive to the oppressive cold and snow.

As students read the passage, have them highlight the words used by the author to extend the military metaphor:

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. Twenty years earlier the means of resistance must have been far fewer, and the enemy in command of almost all the lines of access between the beleaguered villages; and, considering these things, I felt the sinister force of Harmon's phrase: "Most of the smart ones get away." But if that were the case, how could any combination of obstacles have hindered the flight of a man like Ethan Frome?

A good follow-up activity is to have students write a description of their own hometown using an extended metaphor.

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