Ethan Frome Criticism

This essay has a total of 919 words and 9 pages.

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 complications they

employ her cousin to help in the house, the animated Mattie

Silver. With Mattie's youthful presence in the house, Ethan is

awoken of the bitterness of his youth's lost opportunities,

and a dissatisfaction with his life and empty marriage. Ethan

and Mattie in turn, fall 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. After a visit to the

doctor, Zeena is told that she needs more sufficient 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

Zeena's health are factors that will never allow him to leave

Starkfield. Unable to find any solutions to this problem,

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

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