Told from the perspective of the narrator, Ethan Frome is the story of a love triangle gone strangely awry. The narrator meets the main character, Ethan, in the winter of Ethan?s years after the story has taken place, and reconstructs events leading up to Ethan?s present condition. We are told of Ethan?s beginnings as a handsome and strong young man growing up on a Massachusetts farm, full of potential and promise for his future but ultimately loyal to his family and their needs. This loyalty proves to be Ethan?s albatross of sorts as events in the family keep him bound to the farm and prevent him from pursuing his own interests in engineering and technological advances.
When the narrator meets Ethan and his family, all have succumbed to complete complacency in regard to their fate. The story behind the situation reveals a time when Ethan, having already given himself to fate for his family?s sake, expresses an intense desire to break free from the mundane existence of his decaying family wood mill and constantly ailing wife, Zenobia (Zeena). Preceding Ethan?s newfound desire, Zeena has brought her young cousin Mattie Silver to stay with the Fromes and help with the household chores while Zeena struggles with her infirmities. Mattie is full of the potential and hope for the future that Ethan has long since left behind and now Ethan begins to entertain thoughts of new beginnings centered on Mattie. Mattie is likewise drawn to Ethan as he represents for her the strength and authority of her missing father figure.
While Victorian times in which the story is set would not allow for the improprieties of today, Mattie and Ethan do allow themselves finally to kiss and declare their desire to be together though only because Zeena has replaced Mattie and sent her away, sensing the tension of desire between her husband and her young cousin. Ethan and Mattie ultimately decide that to die together would be better than to live complacently apart but in an ironic twist all characters are forced once again to succumb to the wishes of fate.
Edith Wharton grew up in a much more privileged setting than the setting of Ethan Frome and I find it refreshing that she was able to not only capture the dialect, look and feel of such a meager and rural setting as a dieing family farm, but also to have full understanding of the concerns by which people of much lesser means would be governed.
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