Ethan Frome Essay, Research Paper
Gerard Moreno September 10, 1999
Charles Scribner’s Sons
United States of America
This book begins with a Prologue and ends with an Epilogue. It begins with the narrator stuck in
the snow and unable to get home. Ethan Frome gives him a ride to his house so he can stay there and sleep
unitl the storm dies down. The narrator has always been curious about Ethan Frome and others in the New
England town that they lived in. During the narrator’s short stay at the Frome household, he learns a lot
about Ethan Frome.
The narrator begins to learn about Ethan’s early life as a young man. Ethan drops out of college
because his father is killed in an accident. He has to take care of the mill and the farm. Ethan’s mother is ill
and when her condition worsens, Ethan has to hire a nurse to take care of her. The nurse’s name is Zeena.
Ethan’s mother eventually dies and then Ethan and Zeena get married.
After six years of marriage, Zeena finds herself sick and unable to handle her household
responsibilities. Ethan’s marriage is falling apart because his wife is ill, and all of the money from his jobs are
used for Zeena’s medicines, which don’t appear to be working. Ethan then proceeds to hire a girl to take
care of the house. Her name is Mattie Silver and she is about Ethan’s age. Ethan instantly falls in love with
Mattie Silver, but he fears that Zeena knows about it. Zeena never likes Mattie and is not happy with the
work she does. She feels she is too slow and doesn’t take care of the house well enough.
After Mattie has been caring for Zeena for about a year, Zeena goes out of town to see a doctor.
The doctor tells her that her condition is severe and that it will require that she rest all day. Zeena feels that
Mattie cannot handle the household anymore and she hires a new girl to take care of the house. Zeena
states that Mattie must go. While Zeena is out during her visit to the doctor , Ethan finally realizes that
Mattie is the one woman who he would like to be with for the rest of his life. Ethan is undecided about
whether he wants to run away with her or not. Ethan knows that he can’t run away because he won’t have
enough money to support himself and Mattie, and he is devastated by this realization. The least he can do
is to drive her to her train which he decides he will do.
On their trip to the station both Mattie and Ethan reveal that they have always loved each other.
Ethan regrets not discovering this before hand. When they are near the station, they see they have some
time left before the train arrives so they get out and walk around and enjoy the surroundings. They come
upon a sled in which Ethan and Mattie go down a hill to have a last moment of fun together. They walk
back up the hill and Mattie tells Ethan to crash into a big elm tree. Ethan at first doesn’t like the idea, but
then decides to do it because he can’t face going to back to Zeena’s illness and constant nagging. So they
go down the hill and smash hard into the old elm tree. Miraculously, they both survive, but not without
suffering severe neck and spinal injuries.
Finally, the book ends with an epilogue and in the present. Everyone is in their mid to late 40’s and
Mattie has a broken back and neck. Ethan does not suffer from major injuries. Ironically, it was Zeena who
had been caring for both Ethan and Mattie after their attempted suicide.
One conflict in the novel Ethan Frome is the constant tension between Ethan and his wife Zeena.
Ethan resents his wife, he feels she is dull and complains too much. Zeena knows Ethan resents her, but
she believes that it’s because he always has to use his money to pay for her medicines. This conflict is
Man vs. Man.
One of the themes in Ethan Frome has to deal with loneliness and isolation. Ethan has always had
to do things that wouldn’t allow him to be with friends or have any enjoyment. Nobody seemed to notice
Ethan on his trips to the post office and on his way to pick up the small fee he would charge for transporting
wood. He always has to stay home to care for Zeena’s illness and complaining.
“I’m not crazy; but I will be if I leave you.” ( pg 165 ) This was said by Mattie Silver when she had
to face the dilemma of leaving Ethan. I feel that it is a very dramatic statement, said with such passion that it
had an impact on Ethan. What follows is how Ethan and Mattie attempt to commit suicide.
This setting takes place in Starkfield, New England. Ethan’s home is located on farm and mill that
Ethan owns. Starkfield is a classic old style town, with a small population and very little happening. The
time period is about the 1920’s and like in most towns back then, the men worked and the women stayed
home. It is a very secluded place where people would go for weeks without seeing each other.
Mattie Silver is a young woman who is energetic and enthusiastic. Mattie was brought up by poor
parents and had a harsh life. She is pretty sweet-hearted and loving. Ethan loves her so he doesn’t see her
flaws. For example, she is a horrible worker who is slow and cannot complete chores. Mattie is suspicious
that Ethan loves her and is flattered by this and does things to flatter him that Zeena resents. Mattie shows
her selfish love for Ethan when she proposes suicide so she and Ethan can be together forever in death.
Zeena Frome is a very unappealing and unlikable person. She is about Ethan’s age and is
constantly sick. She constantly complains and nags about everything. She has a one-sided personality in
that she doesn’t care what Ethan or anyone else has to say about an issue. Ethan gradually begins to resent
her because of all the work she has put him through. He claims that Zeena has ruined his life and that is one
of the main reasons he decides to run into the tree with Mattie. However, it is ironic that after Ethan and
Mattie’s suicide attempt, it is Zeena who spends the rest of her life caring for them.
Literary Point of View
The person in this book telling the story is a young engineer who acts as the narrator. The young
engineer is caught in a snow storm and has to stay in Ethan’s home. Here is where he describes Ethan’s life.
This narrator simply tells Ethan’s life story as it is told to him. He does not mix in his opinion or view on the
matter at hand.
I do not recommend this book for a young male teenager as myself. This book has little suspense
and action. This is a love story that would most likely be interesting to girls. Overall, I found this book very
boring and long. The book kept dragging on and seemed to never end.
Relationship to Another Work
The book Ethan Frome is similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby. In both of these
books, the focus is on love and two characters that are deeply in love. I feel that the attempted suicide was
tragic, but stupid. There are other ways of dealing with the problem faced by Ethan and Mattie. In both
books love results in tragic endings.
1. Inarticulate – of a sound uttered or formed without the definite articulations of intelligible speech
The boy was inarticulate when he had to speak to the audience.
2. Indignation – anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean
The man resigned with indignation after his boss treated him disrespectfully.
3. Grotesque – departing markedly from the natural, the expected, or the typical
The dead body laying on the floor was grotesque.
4. Exquisite – marked by flawless craftsmanship or by beautiful, ingenious, delicate, or elaborate execution
I have just eaten an exquisite meal.
5. Insurmountable – incapable of being overcome
The couple had insurmountable debts.
6. Innocuous – not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility
I did not pay attention to her innocuous comments.
7. Fretter – one who annoys or bothers
He is being a fretter because he has nothing else to do.
8. Chaotically – completely disordered
The men were running chaotically around the room.
9. Poignancy -severely painful or acute to the spirit; keenly piercing; bitter;
The girl told her sad stories of childhood with poignancy.
10. Retreating – to go back or backward; withdraw; retire
The army was retreating in the face of fear.