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Ethan Frome's Misconceived Love

Updated on November 22, 2012

In the novel Ethan Frome, Ethan, a man who seems to fall in love with any woman who helps him nurse his family, has a hard time moving on with his life because of his kindness. His mother, once a vibrant person, becomes so low-spirited as a result of his father’s death that she only speaks to her son when complaining. It is when his mother becomes sick that things begin to take a turn in his life; he now devotes most of his time to taking care of his mother. To his good fortune, a woman named Zeena comes along to help him take care of her. She evidentally nurses her until death, leaving Ethan with time to spare with his social life. As a return for the help and his fear of being lonely, Ethan marries Zeena. It is the irony that falls upon Ethan that the young healthy woman who once took care of his mother becomes sickly. Ethan learns, as he spends more time with Zeena, that she is a miserable woman whose illness seems to get worse over time. As Ethan pays more attention to Zeena’s illness, he notices the patterns at which one day she is unable to do a simple task, and the next day she is able to do it. Zeena takes it upon herself to obligate her cousin, Mattie, to be her housekeeper. If Ethan decides to divorce with Zeena, so that he can live happily ever after, it is fair to believe that Ethan is an unlucky man and he will continue to seek relationships with miserable women.

Ethan has been married for many years now, and all he gets now are complaints and a hard time from Zeena. He is desperate for a beautiful woman that he can talk to and have a wonderful time with. With Mattie, he feels like he is wanted and like he is with someone who cares about him. As he watches Mattie, in the church, “whirl down the floor from hand to hand he wonders how he could ever have thought that his dull talk interested her (Wharton 33).” He is happy with the fact that he can talk to someone who finds interest in what he says. Whenever he thinks about a future with Mattie, “the sight makes him unhappy, and his unhappiness rouses his latent fears (Wharton 33).” He feels this way because of his empathy towards Zeena, if he decides to leave her all alone. Whenever he goes on night walks back to the farm with Mattie, “he feels most intensely the sweetness of this communion ( Wharton 32).” He enjoys the long walks with Mattie because he gets a chance to socialize and enjoy himself with her. Since he spends most of his life at home with his depressing wife, he finds great pleasure going out with Mattie; because, “to him, who was never gay but in her presence, her gaiety seems plain proof of indifference (Wharton 33).”

At first, Ethan’s mother was a nice exuberant lady and when her husband dies, she becomes sick and miserable. A gravestone reads, “Ethan Frome and Endurance together for fifty years (Wharton 66).” Ethan wonder if the stone is a symbol of him having to endure a long relationship with his wife. When Zeena came to help him take care of his mother, she was a healthy, lively woman who seemed capable of taking care of herself as well as others. When Ethan marries her, Zeena becomes sicker and sicker as time goes by. He feels like “he is too young, too full of the sap of living, to submit so easily to destruction of his hopes (Wharton 104).” His belief led him to think about how much “he cherishes any special thing Mattie does for him.” His feelings for Mattie arouses when he “notices two or three gestures which, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him (Wharton 33).” She seemed to be a wonderful woman until her fault begins to show, when she suggests that committing suicide is a good solution for their problem.

Ethan has been in bad relationships, and they all seemed to be going in the right direction until something caused her to become sick and miserable. It is reasonable to think that he will continue to have relationship problems in his life. The relationship he wants with Mattie will also turn out just as bad as his previous relationships. The relationship becomes a premonition when Mattie advices him to commit suicide, which led to their injuries.

Work Cited

Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. New York: Simon & Schuster,1997.Print.


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