Ethan Frome






October 10, 2000
Introduction to Literature, 2500

Ethan Frome
Fantasy is an Escape from Fear

Everyone, at some time in life, will experience fear. But, often fantasies are created in one’s mind to escape that fear. Ethan Frome uses his fantasy as an escape to the entrapment of his marriage and the fear of public condemnation.

Ethan Frome lives in the winter town of Starkfield, Massachusetts where “the storms of February…pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of March winds…charged down to their support; and …Starkfield emerged from its six months’ siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter” (Wharton, 5).

The narrator, upon meeting Ethan Frome for the first time, thought “he seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface.” He “had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, but had in it…the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters” (Wharton, 9).

Frome finds he is unable to escape the dreariness of the town of Starkfield. Each day while passing the headstones on his property he feels as if they are mocking him, claiming: “We never got away—how should you? Whenever he went in or out of his gate he thought with a shiver ‘I shall just go on living here till I join them.’ ”
(Wharton, 36).

Ethan Frome marries Zenobia (Zeena) after the death of his mother in “an unsuccessful attempt to escape the silence, isolation and loneliness of life” (Lawson, 71). But, after time, he finds his life again becoming silent, as it was with his mother. Their lack of communication is continually making the marriage more miserable. When they do communicate “he had first formed the habit of not answering her, and finally thinking of other things while she talked” (Wharton, 53).

Four years after their marriage, Zeena fell in and hired her cousin, Mattie Silver, to come care for her. Ethan Frome finds silence falling between him and Zeena and the dreariness she carries. He noticed one night, in particular, “the pale light reflected from the banks of snow made her face look more than unusually drawn and bloodless, sharpened the three parallel creases between ear and cheek, and drew querulous lines from her thin nose to the corners of her mouth. Though she was but seven years her husband’s senior, and he was only twenty-eight, she was already an old woman (Wharton, 47).

Ethan Frome, in an attempt to escape the entrapment of the failing marriage finds himself falling in love with her the youthfulness she carries, as, “the pure air, and the long summer hours in the open, gave life and elasticity to Mattie” (Wharton, 60).


Mattie, being young and single, often went to gatherings in town. Ethan always took it upon himself to meet her afterward and escort her home. One evening while waiting to pick her up from a dance he is drawn to the window and watches the young couples dance. He picks her out of the crowd and watches her dance with another young gentleman of the town. As they turn about, she continually tosses her head back with laughter, the way he loved and so often recreated in his mind, and “to him, who was never gay but in her presence, her gaiety seemed plain proof of indifference. …The sight made him unhappy, and his unhappiness roused his latent fears” (Wharton, 25).

While escorting her home he wants to tell her his feelings and thoughts, but “the fact that he had no right to show his feelings, and thus provoke the expression of hers, made him attach a fantastic importance to every change in her look and tone. Now he thought she understood him, and he feared” (Wharton, 34). But during the walk home he continues thinking of her staying to live with him and care for his ill wife. If he was to be doomed to remain in Starkfield forever, at least he would have Mattie with him. “He was never so happy with her as when he abandoned himself to these dreams” (Wharton, 36).

Zeena, upon convincing herself she has become more ill, decides to visit a