Ethan Frome’s Selflessness and Affects of his
Responsibilities By Neil Mehta Ethan Frome is the main
character of Edith Wharton’s tragic novel. Ethan lives the
bitterness of his youth’s lost opportunities, and
dissatisfaction with his joyless life and empty marriage.
Throughout the story Ethan is trapped by social limits and
obligations to his wife. He lives an unhappy life with many
responsibilities and little freedom. Ethan Frome studied
science in college for a year and probably would have
succeeded as an engineer or physicist had he not been
summoned home to run the family farm and mill. Ethan
quickly ended his schooling and went to run the family farm
and mill because he feels it is his responsibility. He marries
Zeena after the death of his mother, in an unsuccessful
attempt to escape silence, isolation, and loneliness. Ethan
also feels the responsibility to marry Zeena as a way to
compensate her for giving up part of her life to nurse his
mother. After marring Zeena he forgets his hope of every
continuing his education and he is now forced to remain
married to someone he does not truly love. Several Years
after their marriage, cousin Mattie Silver is asked to relieve
Zeena, who is constantly ill, of her house hold duties. Ethan
finds himself falling in love with Mattie, drawn to her youthful
energy, as, “ The pure air, and the long summer hours in the
open, gave life and elasticity to Mattie.” Ethan is attracted to
Mattie because she is the opposite of Zeena, while Mattie is
young, happy, healthy, and beautiful like the summer, Zeena
is seven years older than Ethan, bitter, ugly and sickly cold
like the winter. Zeena’s strong dominating personality
undermines Ethan, while Mattie’s feminine, lively youth
makes Ethan fell like a “real man.” Ethan and Mattie finally
express their feeling for each other while Zeena is visiting the
doctor, and are forced to face the painful reality that their
dreams of being together can not come true: The return to
reality was as painful as the return to consciousness after
taking and anaesthetic. His body and brain ached with
indescribable weariness, and he could not think of nothing to
say or do that would arrest the mad flight of the moments He
desperately wanted to run away with Mattie, but he could
not leave because his practical sense told him it was not
suitable to do so partly because of his responsibility to take
care of Zeena. This is when he finally realizes and affects of
his marrying Zeena out of compensation. Ethan and Mattie
attempt to preserve their happiness and remain together the
only way they can, in death. It was Ethan’s job to steer into
the elm tree with the sled so that it looked like a accidental
death instead of suicide. Instead of running into the tree
Ethan thinks of his responsibility of taking care of Zeena and
pulls away. The accident did not kill either of them instead it
just injured them and these injuries stayed with them forever.
At this point Mattie unintentionally becomes the cause of
Ethan’s tragic suffering. The aborted suicide attempt leads to
their tragic fate, living a life of physical suffering, so badly
that Zeena is forced to take care of them. After the accident
Ethan took care of Mattie because he felt responsible for the
accident. Now he has to live with the guilt from his wife and
injured Mattie. “If she’d ha’ died, Ethan might ha’ lived.”
Mattie use to be the joy of Ethan life now she is the burden.
After suffering so long with Zeena, Et! han now has to exist
with the horrible deformed remains of a once beautiful,
sensitive, and loving girl. Once again surrendering himself to
the forces of isolation, silence, darkness, cold, and dealing
with his obligations to his wife and now Mattie. Ethan
Frome’s practical sense of putting his responsibilities before
his self- interests had a very negative affect on his life. His
first decision of marrying Zeena had a big impact on
everything he did afterward. It seemed that every thing he
tried to do worked against his favor. With all the incidents
that happened it seemed inevitable that responsibilities and
obligations toward Mattie and Zeena would trap him.