In the book Ethan Frome, the narrator follows the story of an old, crippled man in town named Ethan Frome. He lives on the outskirts of the city with his wife, Zeena, and her paralyzed cousin, Mattie. The story then flashes back to 24 years ago, when Ethan was taking care of sick, grumpy Zeena with the help of her cousin. Shortly after, Ethan falls in love with Mattie, but tries to suppress his feelings to protect his reputation. However, when Zeena decides it is time to dismiss Mattie and find better help, Ethan cannot let her leave without her knowing his true feelings. So on her last night in town, he sends her off with a special night and a sled ride. After a couple rides down the snowy slope, the two realized they would rather die than be apart, so they decide to crash into a large elm tree. However, the crash ends up leaving both of them crippled, and Zeena as their caretaker. This story showcases the tragic reality of the fight between doing what makes oneself happy or pleasing one’s society. Ethan wanted to be with Mattie, but was afraid of what others would think if he left his sick wife. This left him crippled, living with both Mattie and Zeena, who constantly bickered.
Throughout the story, Ethan struggles with making decisions concerning his happiness, and often only considers the short term effects and others opinions. For example, Ethan married Zeena because he was afraid to be alone any longer. After his mother passed away, Zeena’s volubility was like music to his ears. He felt that he might have gone like his mother’ if the sound of a new voice had not come steady with him (Wharton 40). Ethan married Zeena so he would have company, however he did not consider the long term effects of promising to be with someone who he did not love. As time went by, he soon felt like a prisoner for life with no way out (Wharton 73). Ethan felt trapped. He could not leave Zeena to start a new life with Mattie because he was afraid of what would become of Zeena and his reputation around town. Ethan constantly struggled with problems he had made for himself, which often stopped himself from pursuing what he truly wanted.
Instead of acting on his feelings for Mattie, Ethan tells her what he wishes they could be, but decides it will never come true. He tells Mattie he [wants] to put [his] hand out and touch [her] (Wharton 88), but he stops himself from being with her because he worries about all that could go wrong. Ethan’s overthinking prevents him from finding his happiness, however, if he had followed his intuition, Ethan might ha’ lived, (Wharton 100). If he stopped focusing on the negatives, he might have lived the life he hoped for.
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