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The Examples of Manipulative Behavior in Ethan Frome

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The Examples of Manipulative Behavior in Ethan Frome essay

In order for a successful society and government, true emotions and feelings must be expressed at the essential times. Manipulation is constantly used worldwide in areas such as advertisements to movies. They act as unfair persuaders to make a certain decision or feel a certain way. However, without manipulation, to be able to convey certain serious points would therefore be impossible. In Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton emphasizes manipulation, through the main characters, as a key form of communication necessary to express true emotions and desires.

Ethan Frome, the protagonist, struggles with being able to convey his emotions on most subjects, especially Mattie. In order to find out what Mattie is thinking, he approaches the situation with guile and somewhat sinister intentions. After coming from the nighttime dance, he states “you’d have found me right off if you hadn’t gone back to have that last reel with Denis,’ he brought out awkwardly” (Wharton 23). Ethan is attempting to uncover Mattie’s true emotions by appealing to her feelings towards him. Although he is in love with her, he plays it off as innocent as possible, acting indifferent towards the situation, in an effort to draw out her inner sentiments towards him. Wharton emphasizes that without the ability to manipulate emotions would be much more secretive due to an inability for people to articulate inner desires to others. Although generally level-headed, Ethan is also a victim of manipulation. However, it is a result of his own doing and pessimistic thoughts. As he was walking through the graveyard, “we never got away – how should you?’ seemed to be written on every headstone” (Wharton 10). Ethan is so caught up in the negativity of Starkfield that he has convinced himself these gravestones are condemning him to stay with them until his death day. Although unrealistic, these gravestones provide insight into the true feelings of Ethan and how little he believes in his ability to escape this environment. In addition, Wharton conveys to the readers the harsh reality of self-manipulation and how latent emotions can emerge and greatly influence outlook and perceptions in various manifestations.

Another major manipulator comes from the wife of Ethan. Although Ethan is an expert manipulator, Zeena is the embodiment of manipulation. She constantly lives her life-manipulating people into getting the reactions and results that benefit her most. As she was talking to Ethan she says, “The doctor says it’ll be my death if I go on slaving the way I’ve had to. He doesn’t understand how I’ve stood it as long as I have.” (Wharton 75) Zeena is constantly attempting to use her health as a tool to shape Ethan’s actions. Although she does minimal work, she talks as if she carries most of the workload when in fact Ethan does all the work. Wharton shows how one can be easily manipulated into feeling guilty by stating a fact, even though the logic behind it isn’t completely truthful. Zeena also uses her manipulation to convey her opinions in an indirect yet effective way. Although she generally quiet, Zeena is quite observant of her surroundings and things occurring. While Ethan was getting ready she says, “I guess you’re always late, now you shave every morning” (Wharton 26). In order to convey the necessary emotions to Ethan, Zeena manipulates him by hinting at the fact that even though he is late, he still has time to shave. Wharton uses this to show the effect of a well-phrased sentence on the emotions of the receiver. Although not direct, these manipulations are constantly used to invoke various feelings. Manipulation can also come from the unlikeliest of people. One of the more innocent characters, Mattie, is also one of the most manipulative characters. She mainly does the duties assigned to her and with the exception of Ethan, sticks mostly to herself. When they were sledding, she “put her lips close against his ear to say: ‘Right into the big elm. You said you could. So ‘t we’d never have to leave each other any more.” (Wharton 110). There is a clear and powerful use of manipulation by Mattie to Ethan to appeal to his deepest emotions of love in order to convince him to stay true to their plan. This exchange of words emphasizes the extreme power that manipulation has on decision-making. Wharton constantly shows the importance of manipulation in the daily lives of people, ending with skewed conclusions.

Mattie is also extremely sly when she is manipulating other characters. She uses the concept of indirect interaction to create the same effect. Mattie left for Ethan “a scrap of paper torn from the back of a seedsman’s catalogue, on which three words were written: “Don’t trouble, Ethan.” (Wharton 86). This note shows the depths of manipulation expressed by Mattie. She is manipulating Ethan into doing more than he planned to by elevating their level of communication and emotions, as this was the first time she had ever written him a note. This shows how simpler messages can have astounding effects on whoever is receiving it. Wharton especially shows how people can even be manipulated through external locations instead of just from direct speech. Throughout, Wharton stresses the key value on manipulation on the environment to be able to reveal the true emotions and desires. Although seemingly mediocre, manipulation is necessary to invoke certain feelings about any particular topic. However, manipulation can occur in various forms such as movies and advertisements. These constant manipulations of our mind and emotions are key for the shaping of the society. Without them, society would not be the same as it is today but instead a wasteland of inexpressible emotions and desires.

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The Examples of Manipulative Behavior in Ethan Frome. (2018, Jun 20). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from
“The Examples of Manipulative Behavior in Ethan Frome.” GradesFixer, 20 Jun. 2018,
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