Ethan Frome: Who Is to Blame?

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Who is to blame?

Love is supposedly such a strong force that a couple would die to be together

forever. The force that traps the escape of love and living happily together for a couple

is almost just as strong. In Ethan Frome, Ethan falls out of love with his wife Zeena and

into love with his house girl Mattie. Throughout their year together Ethan is finally able

to express his love for science and talk about what he feels is important with his one

true love Mattie. When Mattie is asked to leave, Ethan and Mattie find themselves in a

compromising position, they can’t afford to run away together, they also can’t live apart.

They feel the only remedy to stay with each other forever would be to commit suicide


Zeena is clearly partially to blame for driving Mattie and Ethan to an attempt

at suicide. Zeena came to Ethan’s house to care for his sickly mother who was dying

and in need of female assistance. After caring for his mother, Ethan and Zeena fell into

what seems like a state of lust for each other and decided to get married. Whether it

was true love or Ethan feeling that he needed to repay Zeena for her help, they found

themselves bound in matrimony for the rest of their lives. Zeena quickly became sick

and blamed it on her care for Ethan’s mother. She was convinced that she caught

whatever “complications”, which were serious and sometimes considered fatal from

Ethan’s mother. “Complications, to have them was in itself a distinction, though it was

also, in most cases a death warrant. (pg88)”. Zeena hardly ever left her bed except to

spend what little money Ethan was earning at a new doctor in a different town. Zeena

drove their marriage down the drain when she wouldn’t do anything for herself and made

Ethan wait at her hand and foot. Ethan needed help, and Zeena’s cousin Mattie was in

search of a place to live and in debt to the Frome’s. It seemed like a perfect idea, they

would have a relative in the house to help Zeena and do house work and they would only

have to provide her with room and board. Mattie’s help as a house girl would lead to

Ethan realizing that he wasn’t in love with Zeena. Zeena finally realized about a year into

the engagement with Mattie living in her house that Ethan was in love with Mattie and

decided it was time for Mattie to go. Zeena did not hesitate to tell Ethan as soon as she

got home from a doctor that her sickness had gotten worse and they needed to hire a girl

that would prove to be more competent. Mattie had to go and Ethan had to be the one to

tell her. Realizing that Mattie would have to leave forever and not even knowing if he

would ever see her again or where she was going, Ethan knew he had to do something.

Ethan felt that if he let Mattie get on the train out of town, he could never be happy again.

Zeena tried to get rid of Mattie and Ethan had no other way to be with Mattie then to kill


Even though the reader never gets to meet Ethan’s mother, all of the problems

between Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie seem to tie back to her. To begin with, Ethan and

Mattie couldn’t run away west together like he had hoped. This is because Ethan did not

have fifty dollars to spend on the trip, he also did not want to leave Zeena without any

source of income. Ethan had been attending college to further his interest in engineering

and science, the one thing he had ever loved before Mattie, when his mother had fallen

ill. He had to go back to the farm, leave school, and maintain the farm and his mother’s

health. All of his new tasks proved to be too much for one person, and they called a

family member about Ethan’s age to care for his mother. At first Zeena proved to be

all of the good things a wife at the time should be, Ethan fell for her, and so in essence,

Zeena’s presence was his mother’s fault. The Frome farm was not able to make a large

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