Ethan Frome

All of us have things in our lives we dislike performing, but we must do them on a daily basis because they are part of our existence. Marriage or a relationship with another person should not be a task. It should be a full measurement of enjoyment and pleasure. In Edith Whartons novel, Ethan Frome, the main character, Ethan Frome, is in a marriage that renders little pleasure or enjoyment. He detests his life and his wife, but falls prey to the belief he is in love with someone he cannot attain. Ethan perceived his life to be unsatiated and because of this his life was out of control and near tragic.


You could call Ethan Frome your average man for his time. He had nothing to smile about. He was fairly poor and was married to a woman he despised. Ethan and his wife, Zeena, were married not for love, but almost as a payoff for Zeenas services to Ethans ill and dying mother. He hated his bond with Zeena ever since they said I do. The two had only been married for seven years and positive comments about the couple from the townspeople made him sick. On one occasion Andrew Hale reminded Ethan how it was not too long ago since they fixed up a place for he and Zeena to live. On Ethans way home from Hales home, He reflected that his seven years with Zeena seemed to Starkfield not so long (p.56) Ethan was always complaining about his relationship with his wife. Probably even after their wedding day. He was the root of his own misery, not Zeena. After all, he had married her.

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A miserable wife, a terrible life. What could make it better for poor Ethan Frome? The infatuation with a woman he could never have? Mattie was Zeenas distant relative who stayed with the pitiful couple, and helped around the house. Mattie made Ethans life so much more worthwhile, or so he thought. It was the first time that Mattie had ever written to him, and the possession of the paper gave him a strange new sense of her nearness; yet it deepened his anguish by reminding him that henceforth they would have e no other way of communicating with each other. For the life of her smile, the warmth of her voice, only cold paper and dead words! (p. 94) Perhaps Ethan would never be happy. Not even a lovely note from the woman he loved was enough for Ethan. He was always in need of more. No one ever gave him enough.


At one point it seems as if Ethan makes an attempt to save his horrid life and run off with Mattie. He would leave behind his wife whom he loathed and and his hidden love for Mattie. But, this wonderful thought pulls him back. With the sudden perception of the point to which his madness had carried him, the madness fell and he saw his life before him as it was. He was a poor man, the husband of a sickly woman, when his desertion would leave alone and destitute; and even if he had had the heart to desert her he could have done so only by deceiving tow kindly people who had pitied him. (p. 103) After all of the lying, cheating, and hating, he still cannot leave and enjoy a life full of happiness and freedom. He feels like he owes his wife something, or maybe he loves his misery.


The thought of suicide comes into the mind of his forbidden love and they decide to go coasting and run into a tree, killing themselves so they can live happily together in the after life. Their fate was already sealed for them. After the crash Mattie turned into the woman he was trying to get away from in the first place, Zeena. After all the wasted time, Ethan was happy, he just did not know it. This was his life, he was destined to be an unhappy person. It was in the Frome blood. But, were all of the problems necessary? Ethan created problems in his life with Zeena because he wanted to. He was always looking for something better, never just settling for what he had. No one forced him to Marry Zeena, but he did. Ethan Frome thrived on misery and now he was truly happy, he was miserable with the two women he loved.

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome Ethan Frome is a story of ill-fated love, set during the winter in the rural New England town of Starkfield. Ethan is a farmer who is married to a sickly woman named Zeena. The two live in trapped, unspoken resentment on Ethan’s isolated and failing farm. Ethan has been caring for his wife for six years now. Due to Zeena’s numerous ailments they employ her cousin, the animated Mattie Silver, to help in the house.

With Mattie’s youthful presence and attitude in the house, Ethans bitterness of his youth’s lost opportunities and the dissatisfaction with his life and empty marriage are reawaken. This resentment leads to Ethan and Mattie in turn, falling in love. However, they never follow their love due to Ethan’s morals and the respect he has for his marriage to Zeena. Ethan eagerly awaits the nights when he is able to walk Mattie home from the town dances. He cherishes the ground she walks on and would do anything for her.

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After a visit to the doctor, Zeena is told that she needs more appreciable hired help. Thus, she decides to send her incompetent cousin away and hire a new one. Ethan and Mattie are desperate to stay together. However, Ethan’s lack of financial means and Zeenas health are the deciding factors that will never allow him to leave Starkfield to be with his love. When the two are unable to find any plausible solutions to this issue, Ethan and Mattie decide to commit suicide by sledding into a tree.

They figure it is the only way they can be together. The attempt fails, and the two are left paralyzed. Now Ethan’s wife must care for the two for the rest of their lives. There were many themes found in Ethan Frome, but the greatest of them all is loneliness and isolation. In college Ethan acquired the nickname “Old Stiff” because he rarely went out with the boys.

Once he returned to the farm to care for his parents, he couldn’t go out with them even if he wanted to. Whatever he’s done has kept him apart from others: tending to the farm and mill, nursing his sick mother and caring for Zeena. Ethan’s isolation is intensified, because he is often tongue-tied. He would like to make contact with others but can’t. For example, when he wants to impress Mattie with beautiful words of love, he mutters, “Come along.” In their own ways, Zeena and Mattie are solitary figures, too. For years, Zeena rarely leaves the house.

She’s consumed by her illness. Mattie, on the other hand, seeks refuge from loneliness at the Fromes’ farm. A year later she chooses to die rather than return to a world of solitude. Edith Wharton uses characters such as Mattie, to express the theme of loneliness and isolation. Mattie Silver is unlike any of the other characters in Ethan Frome.

The town of Starkfield is very colorless and dull. When Mattie enters she is wearing bright clothing and ribbons tied in her hair. From her first appearance, the reader becomes aware that Mattie is very different from Ethan’s wife. Of all the characters in this novel, Mattie is the most tragic. She was so energetic and full of life that she wanted to free Ethan from this terrible society he lived in.

She suggested suicide as a means of escape for the two of them. When the attempt failed, she became paralyzed. She is now stuck in the cold, colorless, world of Starkfield which unto itself is extremely tragic and ironic. The setting of Ethan Frome also expresses the isolation. Around the turn of the century, in Ethan Frome’s time, the town of Starkfield was a cold and lifeless place.

Life is dreary and cheerless in Starkfield. People stay indoors and keep to themselves. Weeks pass between visits with friends or neighbors. Wharton calls Starkfield a small farming community, and the town does live up to its name. It’s barren and it’s people are poor. Ethan can barely scrape a living off the land. The town Starkfield afflicts Ethan and helps to shape his destiny. Like the town, he is sullen and run-down. Starkfield sits alone in its valley, isolated from the world around it.

Ethan is also isolated. He left the lonely valley to go to college, but since returning he has gone scarcely more than few miles from his remote farm. Physically, and therefore, emotionally, he is trapped by his wife, his farm, and his poverty. Ethan is in some ways, a piece of the scenery, or as the narrator says, “a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of frozen woe.” He lacks the strength to shake himself loose before it’s too late. The author is able to clearly portray the themes of isolation and loneliness through the characters and the setting.

In conclusion, I feel that Ethan Frome should be included in a list of works of high literary merit, because it is a classic. The book is about society in general and this attracts many readers. I think that the magnificence of Ethan himself attracts many readers. His character was so carefully thought out and brilliantly painted in the readers mind. Although Ethan Frome was not a commercial success when it was first written, many critics praised the novel.

Dr Kinnicuttt said that Ethan Frome was “a classic that will be read an re-read with pleasure and instruction.” Henry James told Edith Wharton that the novel “contained a beautiful art and tone and truth — a beautiful artful kept downness.” Many critics also disliked the book. People said that it was too pessimistic to be recommended to the general reader. A critic in The Bookman could not forgive Wharton for her cruelty toward both her characters and her readers. The novel shows how one will not follow their heart due to what society may think. It shows how much society’s beliefs in the 1900’s were valued.

Despite low sales when this book first became published and unfavorable remarks about Ethan Frome, the novel is still read and loved by many people, in many countries and languages, today. All of these factors attribute to wonderful teachers, just like Mrs. Verrastro, assigning it as a required report and analysis to help our young and budding minds and persons develop into well educated and productive members of society.

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