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Critical Lens

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Bravery and conscience take many forms, but the general perception of these qualities is a lack of fear in the face of danger, or the willingness to confront danger without regard for one's own life. However, one's life does not need to be at stake in order to be considered brave. Conscience, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and to act upon that, to do what is right, and what is virtuous, even in the face of opposition, with or without the real or implicit threat of bodily harm, is what truly defines a brave individual. In the stories Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Ethan Frome followed his conscience and therefore, could be considered a brave individual, while Macbeth was not able to choose between morally right and wrong.

In Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome, the main character, Ethan Frome, is married to a girl named Zeena, but is truly in love with Zeena's cousin Mattie Silver. Although Zeena is Ethan's wife, Ethan is repelled by Zeena's constant illnesses and what is portrayed as a miserable marriage. The author used extensive characterization to describe Zeena as a gruesome, aging, flat-chested, angry, and fun-sucking person. This characterization is what turned the reader away from Zeena and edged them towards Ethan's side. Ethan often contemplated moving away to live and pursue a relationship with Mattie, but his conscience destroyed that dream. Even though Zeena was old and grotesque, she was still Ethan's wife, and it would have been morally wrong for Ethan to divorce Zeena to marry a younger and prettier, Mattie Silver. Ethan knew this and he understood it well. Sometimes when he thought of Mattie his conscience would leave him, but it would always come back before he made a major, immoral mistake. Ethan had a plan to take Mattie and move out West where they could live peacefully. He even had a letter half-written to his wife, notifying her of his departure. This is where his conscience kicked in and reminded him that Zeena was a sickly woman, would not be able to sell the farm or take care of it herself. By leaving Zeena, Ethan would promise her a life of even more hardship and an extreme lack of funds. Ethan's inability to move out West foreshadowed his inability to commit suicide along with Mattie at the end of the story. Ethan turned the sled at the last moment because his conscience reminded him that it would be immoral to leave Zeena all by herself. Even though he sustained permanent injuries from the accident, Ethan was still able to provide for his wife.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare was another example of a story, where the main character, Macbeth, followed his conscience,



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