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The slippery slope of interpellation: framing hero and victim in Edith Wharton's Ethan frome

(2013) NEOPHILOLOGUS. 97(2). p.417-435
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Abstract
Ethan Frome has been criticized for its narratological construction, which is as challenging now as ever. The challenge arises through the employment of one narrator to relate both the main story and the frame story, which takes place 24 years prior. But this narrator is an outsider to Starkfield, and his story relies on tight-lipped remarks provided by the local townsfolk. Consequently, the tale culminates in a vision constructed by the entanglement of the narrator’s own imagination and a few sparse threads of hearsay. It is no wonder the construction of the novel, then, has been a subject of such passionate critique. This essay analyzes the narrator’s deep-seated fear of and attraction for his beloved Ethan, which motivates a specific interpretation of his life. Through a Butlerian lens, we will argue that the narrator acts as the controlling voice, indeed, the voice of the law intent on interpellating Ethan as an heroic subject. The performative nature of interpellation, however, leads to contradiction as details about Ethan and Ethan’s own behaviors, framed meticulously by the narrator, collide with the narrator’s overall vision. These contradictions activate a chain reaction in the narrative that unwittingly depletes Ethan’s power and masculinity as the would-be hero, and strengthens Zeena’s power and masculinity as the would-be villain. The narrator’s story ends in a fabricated picture framed to defend a manufactured hero, told by a naïve outsider who is at once too invested and removed from the protagonist to comprehend the nuances of small-town life.
Keywords
Performativity, Masculinity, Femininity, Narrator, Interpellation, Frame story, Vision, Framing

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MLA
Wagner, Johanna, and Marysa Demoor. “The Slippery Slope of Interpellation: Framing Hero and Victim in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.” NEOPHILOLOGUS 97.2 (2013): 417–435. Print.
APA
Wagner, Johanna, & Demoor, M. (2013). The slippery slope of interpellation: framing hero and victim in Edith Wharton’s Ethan frome. NEOPHILOLOGUS, 97(2), 417–435.
Chicago author-date
Wagner, Johanna, and Marysa Demoor. 2013. “The Slippery Slope of Interpellation: Framing Hero and Victim in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.” Neophilologus 97 (2): 417–435.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Wagner, Johanna, and Marysa Demoor. 2013. “The Slippery Slope of Interpellation: Framing Hero and Victim in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.” Neophilologus 97 (2): 417–435.
Vancouver
1.
Wagner J, Demoor M. The slippery slope of interpellation: framing hero and victim in Edith Wharton’s Ethan frome. NEOPHILOLOGUS. 2013;97(2):417–35.
IEEE
[1]
J. Wagner and M. Demoor, “The slippery slope of interpellation: framing hero and victim in Edith Wharton’s Ethan frome,” NEOPHILOLOGUS, vol. 97, no. 2, pp. 417–435, 2013.
@article{2983750,
  abstract     = {{Ethan Frome has been criticized for its narratological construction, which is as challenging now as ever. The challenge arises through the employment of one narrator to relate both the main story and the frame story, which takes place 24 years prior. But this narrator is an outsider to Starkfield, and his story relies on tight-lipped remarks provided by the local townsfolk. Consequently, the tale culminates in a vision constructed by the entanglement of the narrator’s own imagination and a few sparse threads of hearsay. It is no wonder the construction of the novel, then, has been a subject of such passionate critique. This essay analyzes the narrator’s deep-seated fear of and attraction for his beloved Ethan, which motivates a specific interpretation of his life. Through a Butlerian lens, we will argue that the narrator acts as the controlling voice, indeed, the voice of the law intent on interpellating Ethan as an heroic subject. The performative nature of interpellation, however, leads to contradiction as details about Ethan and Ethan’s own behaviors, framed meticulously by the narrator, collide with the narrator’s overall vision. These contradictions activate a chain reaction in the narrative that unwittingly depletes Ethan’s power and masculinity as the would-be hero, and strengthens Zeena’s power and masculinity as the would-be villain. The narrator’s story ends in a fabricated picture framed to defend a manufactured hero, told by a naïve outsider who is at once too invested and removed from the protagonist to comprehend the nuances of small-town life.}},
  author       = {{Wagner, Johanna and Demoor, Marysa}},
  issn         = {{1572-8668}},
  journal      = {{NEOPHILOLOGUS}},
  keywords     = {{Performativity,Masculinity,Femininity,Narrator,Interpellation,Frame story,Vision,Framing}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  number       = {{2}},
  pages        = {{417--435}},
  title        = {{The slippery slope of interpellation: framing hero and victim in Edith Wharton's Ethan frome}},
  url          = {{http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11061-012-9319-z}},
  volume       = {{97}},
  year         = {{2013}},
}

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