After he returned to the farm to care for his mother, his mother slowly became more and more eccentric. By the end, she rarely talked at all. His cousin, Zeena Pierce, came to help care for her. Zeena seemed lively at first, providing the company and conversation that Ethan craved. She was an efficient housekeeper, and her help restored some of the freedom Ethan had once known. When his mother died, he could not bear the thought of being alone again, and he asked Zeena to stay with him as his wife.
Example of Argumentative Essay: 'Ethan Frome'
At first, they had plans to sell the farm and move to the city. But financial troubles and a scarcity of buyers impeded them, and Zeena became more and more sickly and obsessed with her own illnesses. Her hypochondria cut off the possibility of leaving Starkfield. After a year, Zeena became as quiet as Ethan's mother had been. To explain why he couldn't drive Zeena to the station today, Ethan lied and said he needed to deliver the lumber in person to get a cash advance.
But now he regrets the lie: thinking they have cash handy, Zeena will be more extravagant in buying her medicines.
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Uncharacteristically, Ethan resolves to swallow some of his pride and ask Andrew Hale for cash up front instead of the normal quarterly payment. But once he asks Hale, Ethan feels shame. Hale is not willing to give the cash, although he refuses with enough geniality, and Ethan is too proud to say he needs the money.
While in town, Ethan runs some errands. He runs into Denis Eady briefly, and worries that the young man might be headed toward the Frome farm. Ethan also stumbles onto Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum kissing; he realizes with sadness that these two need not hide their passion, while he has been torturing himself over a simple kiss with Mattie.
When Ethan gets to the door he finds it locked, and it takes a moment for Mattie to answer. The wait reminds him so much of the previous night that he half-expects to see Zeena there. But it is Mattie, her hair laced with a red ribbon. Ethan is overjoyed just being with her. They sit down for dinner, but conversation proves difficult. Any mention of Zeena's name leads to awkwardness, and Ethan pretends to be famished so he can eat rather than talk.
The cat knocks over the pickle-dish, shattering it, and Mattie is thrown into a panic: it is a fine red dish, one of Zeena's wedding gifts. It came all the way from Philadelphia and is irreplaceable here in Starkfield. Mattie begins to cry, because Zeena will want to know why the dish was being used in the first place. Ethan takes charge of the situation, piecing the dish together and putting it back on the high shelf where it is kept. He'll glue it tomorrow, and it might take months for Zeena to realize what happened.
Mattie does not even know what he has done, but she trusts him enough not to ask him about it. Ethan is thrilled that his assurance subdues her; it makes him feel strong and in control. The first half of the chapter is spent establishing that Starkfield in general and the Fromes' farm in particular stamps the life out of any who live there. We are told that a spark of life resides in Ethan still, but we also remember the older, grim Ethan of the opening.
The life left in Ethan at twenty-one will not last much longer. The themes of isolation and lost potential are central to the story of Ethan's youth. He lost his chance to pursue further studies, and he returned home to care for his mother as she lost her mind and became silent. The effect of environment is powerful, as the Frome farm wears down anyone who spends too much time there: Zeena, initially lively, became increasingly lost to hypochondria and bouts of silence. Starkfield winters exact a heavy price. We see more determinism in the marriage: it came about not because of great passion, but because of loneliness.
Significantly, Ethan's mother died in winter. Ethan wonders if he would have married Zeena if the death had happened in the spring; it was the thought of spending winter alone that made him need her. The chance timing of his mother's death becomes another factor over which Ethan had no control; it may have led to his disastrous marriage, a marriage that tied him to Starkfield for good. The moment with Andrew Hale reveals Ethan's fierce pride. He swallows it enough to ask for a cash advance, but once he has made the request his face becomes red.
And he cannot bring himself to explain his request to Andrew; when Andrew asks if Ethan has any special need for the money, Ethan cheerfully says that he doesn't. Wharton uses a moment of happiness to show the painful passage of time in Starkfield. When Ethan stumbles on Ruth and Ned kissing, we remember that in twenty-four years time, Ruth will be an old widow living in the careworn remains of her father's mansion.
Rarely do we see places or people for whom a pleasant fate waits. We know that Denis Eady will be very wealthy, but the young Denis is presented as so unlikable that his future prosperity is almost as depressing as the hard times waiting for Ruth. Wharton foreshadows Mattie's future transformation into a second Zeena. Zeena, too, was lively when she came to the Frome farm. And when Ethan waits at the door, Mattie imitates Zeena's actions from the previous night.
The Examples of Manipulative Behavior in Ethan Frome
The parallel is so strong that Ethan wonders if Zeena is going to be there when the door opens. Although Mattie is lively now, it must be remembered that Zeena once had the power to make Ethan happy. Starkfield winters and the harshness of life at the Frome's farm can wear down anybody. The old tombstone is another bit of ominous foreshadowing. As the tombstones mock Ethan with the reminder of other Fromes who never were able to leave Starkfield, this tombstone foretells the living Ethan's fate.
The Ethan Frome of the tombstone lived with his wife, Endurance, for fifty years. The language is of compulsion and forbearance rather than a celebration of the couple's life together. The best that can be said of them is that they "dwelled together in peace," and the wife's name is a symbol and a bit of foreshadowing. For the living Ethan, love will not be the mark of his life with Mattie or Zeena.
Endurance will be the virtue that Ethan will be forced to cultivate, and he will have long decades to do it. It becomes very clear at dinner that Mattie's feelings for Ethan are in line with his feelings for her. She uses the forbidden red dish and prepares Ethan's favorite foods: clearly, she wanted to make their dinner together special. They are making an attempt at a normal dinner together, as a husband and wife would have, but their situation does not allow it.
Zeena's absence is nearly as oppressive as Zeena's presence, and conversation becomes impossible. Red is being used as a symbol of passion and transgression. In Chapters 1 and 2, Mattie is wearing a cherry scarf. Here, she wears a red ribbon in her hair and serves Ethan on a rid dish.
Wharton's Ethan Frome: Escape from Passivity Essays
But passion and transgression lead to trouble: the red dish is smashed, and Mattie panics about having to explain the loss to Zeena. As much as they would like to pretend otherwise, it is impossible for Mattie and Ethan to have a dinner together like a married couple. Their meal deteriorates into awkward conversation, silences, and broken dishes that cannot be replaced.
Ethan and Mattie settle down for a quiet night by the fire, Ethan with his pipe and Mattie with some sewing. Ethan can't see Mattie from his position by the fire, so he invites her to sit in Zeena's rocking chair. When she sits there, Ethan thinks for a moment that he sees Zeena's face in place of Mattie's. Mattie also seems uncomfortable with the spot, and she soon returns to her place at the table, pleading that the firelight is not bright enough for needlework.
At first, the conversation seems to go easily. They talk about the goings-on in town, and they discuss the possibility of sledding "coasting" some night. Ethan pulls his chair up to Mattie's table. The conversation becomes awkward; Ethan brings up Ned and Ruth in hopes that talk of the young couple will somehow open up a chance for a soft touch. It doesn't work; the conversation turns to Mattie leaving someday, and Mattie worries that Zeena is displeased with her. She worries that Zeena will force her to leave.
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Refresh and try again. Ethan Frome Quotes Showing of I want to do for you and care for you. I want to be there when you're sick and when you're lonesome. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters. It seemed to be a part of the thickening darkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer.
He looked at her hair and longed to touch it again, and to tell her that is smelt of the woods; but he had never learned to say such things. It seemed a rustling covert leading to enchanted glades. It made a small frightened cheep like a field mouse, and he wondered languidly if it were hurt. Then he understood that it must be in pain: pain so excruciating that he seemed, mysteriously, to feel it shooting through his own body. He tried in vain to roll over in the direction of the sound, and stretched his left arm out across the snow.