Wharton begins Frome’s story with his father dead and mother greatly ill. With his father gone he was left to be his mother’s “hero,” “Somebody had to stay and care for the folks. There warn’t ever anybody but Ethan,” so Ethan stayed with his mother, alone, until Zeena, his future wife, came along to help tend to his mother’s needs. Not long after the death of Frome’s mother, did Zeena take Ethan’s hand in marriage. Shortly after that, unfortunately, Zeena fell to illness too, “Fust his father- then his mother- then his wife.” “Oh, as to that: I guess it’s always been Ethan done the caring.” Ethan plays the hero role for a good while, until Zeena calls upon Mattie Silver to take his place for tending to her illness.
Zeena, Frome’s wife, calls upon Mattie Silver to take Ethan’s place as her caretaker, but in an ironic twist of fate, history repeats itself- Ethan falls in love with the caretaker. The downfall of the hero that was Ethan Frome begins with the beautiful Mattie Silver. With Zeena’s sickness comes bitterness, and for Ethan came resentment for barring his way, “She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others.” Although Frome is a married man, he longs to be with Mattie;