Essay: Ethan Frome the Book

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Ethan Frome

The book Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton mainly concerns the relationship between three characters -- Ethan From, his wife Zeena, and Mattie, Zeena's cousin. The setting of the book reflects the general mood of the characters; a desolate, gloomy farm. Upon her arrival, Mattie counteracts the gloomy atmosphere in the Frome household. Ethan, who has felt trapped since his father's illness brought him back to the farm from his studies, immediately feels not only a connection with Mattie that results from physical attraction, but also from the world she represents; a world beyond the farm. Ironically however, Zeena and Ethan both manage to trap Mattie on the farm as well, where the three of them manage a long-term and uncomfortable existence. For the majority of the novel, Ethan appears to be presented with two possibilities of an alternative life, where he can escape both the farm and Zeena. The first is for Zeena to die; which is not an impossibility, as frequent references are made to her fragile wellness. The second is for Ethan to leave the farm, Mattie and Zeena all behind. A third possibility is presented in the last chapter of the book, but soon loses its potential to become a tragic irony.

Chapter 2 serves to describe the prevalent dynamic between Mattie and Ethan for the majority of the book. Ethan meets Mattie to walk her home from a dancing event, where Zeena encouraged her to go so she would not feel too lonely or isolated on their farm. When the dancers leave, he meets Mattie after she has a brief altercation with another man. He walks her home, and the two talk about Mattie's future on the farm. Mattie reveals that she has little beyond to farm to aspire to, and hopes to stay. This makes Ethan happy. When they reach the house, Ethan discovers that Zeena had not left the key to the house under the mat for them. Instead, Zeena met them at the door. Inside the house, Ethan claims that he wants to work on accounts before coming to Zeena's bed, but ultimately decide to follow the women upstairs when Mattie does not stay to keep him company.

In this chapter, the relationship between Mattie and Ethan appears to be defined in terms of contrast and juxtaposition. Mattie's young, excited and friendly disposition is starkly contrasted with Zeena's angular features and unappealing manner. Mattie is like a dream -- she represents the life that Ethan aspired to but was betrayed into giving up by his family and by Zeena. Ethan also experiences his time alone with Mattie as a type of dream. When they meet Zeena at the door, the author describes it like the end of a dream. Because of this quality, Ethan values his time with Mattie more than anything else in his life. It is like regaining some of the dreams he had lost. Mattie represents the world of Ethan's university and potential professional career away from the farm.

Zeena on the other hand seems to represent the trap of the farm. The entire environment is as gloomy and sickly as she is, and yet refuses to die. Zeena traps Ethan, and by association Ethan traps Mattie. The dance and the other events that Mattie goes to simply represents the last vestiges of the life she had left behind to live with the Fromes. It is the life she gives up for the sake of her love for Ethan.

For the majority of the novel, this representation appears to hold. Zeena is the old, unbecoming, and unfriendly wife, whom Ethan probably never loved. It is suggested that he married her only for duty. Mattie represents a breath of freedom from the seven-year trap that was Ethan's marriage. He falls in love with her mostly because of her sheer contrast with the gloomy world he is used to, and also because she represents a world that he had once dreamed to be part of. Her proximity brings the dream closer to him, and hence she becomes his ultimate desire, because she is close enough to touch, to feel and to love.

For Ethan, the juxtaposition of Mattie and Zeena therefore represents the juxtaposition of the life he once desired and aspired to with the life that ultimately became… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Ethan Frome the Book.  (2010, June 14).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ethan-frome-book/8622591

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"Ethan Frome the Book."  14 June 2010.  Web.  22 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ethan-frome-book/8622591>.

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"Ethan Frome the Book."  Essaytown.com.  June 14, 2010.  Accessed July 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ethan-frome-book/8622591.