Ethan Frome: The Simple Minded Man
H American Lit
5 December 2013 The Simple Minded Man
In Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton the three main character’s Zeena, Ethan, and Mattie suffer three different but equally unfortunate lives. In the beginning of the book all three don’t really have the best of lives but they’re lives worth living. Ethan is married to Zeena and even though she can be a pain you can tell that deep down she loves him. He is willing to trade that all in for his love for Mattie which doesn’t seem fair considering divorce wasn’t typical choice in that day and age. Zeena is ill but tends to complain and demand a little too much of Ethan. Zeena is willing to throw out her own family without a place to go. But at the same time Mattie was having a mild affair with Ethan. Mattie seems the most innocent of all. Sure she interacted with Ethan but she genuinely seemed to try her best not to. All three characters suffered consequences for their decisions in life, and some consequences were fairer than others. Toward the end of the novel I find myself feeling bad for all three characters, even though some were deserving of their fate. Fate, consequence, sympathy, and judgement are four themes that play a major role throughout the novel, they shape it into the realistic book that many readers have grown to appreciate.
Mattie was hired to care for Zeena. She did her best but occasionally got swept up in Ethan’s love for her. It was Ethan that suggested running away but even before she made the big decision she knew she could never live with herself if she ran away. She would rather kill herself and stay loyal to zeena than run away. This type of loyalty should reward
Mattie with the fate she deserves, either moving away from Ethan and eventually moving on from him, or dying in the sledding accident like she had desired. Instead Mattie ended up paralyzed. She never deserved this and is now as miserable as Zeena. At first you might think that Zeena deserves what happened to her. Being a constant complainer and hypochondriac she often took her husband for granted. It isn’t until later in the book when we find out that she is only so bitter because deep down she knows her husband doesn’t love her. Ethan is oblivious to the fact that Zeena even know’s they are in love. Ethan says,
“His wife had never shown any jealousy of Mattie, but of late she had grumbled increasingly over the housework and found oblique ways of attracting attention to the girl's inefficiency.
( Wharton 13). Ethan thinks that unless he and Mattie speak or show their love, they are not betraying or deceiving Zeenar. Zeena all though not the best of wives was loyal, and did not deserve having to care for Ethan and Mattie for the rest of her life.
Ethan, of all the main characters, deserved his fate the most. He had Zeena who although wasn’t the best of wives was loyal and deep down loved him, and he was willing to leave her all alone even though she was sick. For his own selfish reasons he wanted to run away with Mattie and never look back, neglecting responsibilities and throwing Zeena to the wolves. Many agree that as for Ethan, “There is no one to blame for the outcome of his story but Ethan Frome himself” (brianna frentzko). Ethan deserved all that was coming to
him at the end of the book
The novel Ethan Frome is meant to steer clear of the romanticized aspects of adultery. Unlike the Scarlet letter where every crime seems to be an act of passion. Ethan frome looks at the truth and ugliness in adultery for what it really is, and doesn’t try to delude it with mushy romantics. Within the first few chapters you can conclude that there will be some sort of weird love triangle between a marriage and an outsider that will takeover the plot of the story. Other books during this era often tried to spice up the relationships and add something whimsical to the story. Wharton does a good job of keeping a level head throughout the story. I found that there was more of a lesson in the average realistic approach to a love story. It exposes each scandal with a logical response instead of something that escalates quickly. When Zeena tells Ethan that they will no longer be requiring Matties services, there is an initial understandable fit thrown by Ethan. After this the story continues with the next logical response, which involves Mattie moving out. It doesn’t become a huge town wide ordeal, Mattie just simply does as its told. Ethan frome is made up of a series of reasonable acts such as this one, that teach us a lesson. Life isn’t a fairy tale, just because you desire a certain ending doesn’t mean it will come true. It is often the realistic and plausible ending that prevails, and Ethan Frome helps prove that.
Even though Ethan brought his fate upon himself, there are many times in the Novel where I found myself feeling bad for him .Even though Zeena is the left out women in
Ethan’s plan for adultery, I often felt bad for Ethan and his entrapment in his marriage.
Clearly he isn’t physically or emotionally attracted to Zeena, “Against the dark background of the kitchen she stood up tall and angular, one hand drawing a quilted counterpane to her
flat breast, while the other held a lamp. The light . . . drew out of the darkness her puckered throat and the projecting wrist of the hand that clutched the quilt, and deepened fantastically the hollows and prominences of her highboned face under its rings of crimpingpins.” (
Wharton 22). Ethan also isn’t a fan of her hypochondriac personality and how she gets to make the rules for the house. With Mattie he gets to be the boss which is part of the reason he is drawn to her.
In Ethan Frome, we are expected to pass negative judgements. We judge Zeena for her complaints and her control over Ethan. She doesn’t ask, she demands that things get done the way she wants with no resistance from Ethan. Even though Zeena gets the short end of the stick alot in the book, it is hard to feel bad for her when she is constantly nagging and complaining.We often Judge Zeena for heading out of town to visit new doctors, prescribing her with expensive unnecessary things. I distinctly remember passing judgement on Mattie when she used Zeena’s special dish. The second she touched the dish I knew it was a bad idea, and the minute it broke I couldn’t help but judge her because how had she not expected something to go wrong! Ethan gets judged alot for his self centered brain that gets him in alot of trouble. He only thinks of Mattie and is oblivious as to who it is hurting around him. He thinks that nobody knows about his and Maddies relationship, when really Zeena knows, the neighbors know, everyone know.
Fate, consequence, sympathy, and judgement play the major roles in the novel Ethan
Frome by Edith WHarton. The only character that deserve their fate is Ethan, as he does the most wrongdoings, only thinking of himself, at all times. All of the main characters
Ethan, Zeena and Mattie receive a consequence for their wrongdoings, whether it be
rightfully due or not. The result of their consequences often leads me to feel bad for the characters but I can’t help but pass judgment because on more than one occasion, they brought it upon themselves. In the end Ethan frome is an insightful novel that gives a new perspective to everyday things.
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Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. Belmont, CA: Fearon Education, 1991. Print.