Ethan Frome By Edith Wharton

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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is set in a small New England town in the early twentieth century. It revolves around three main characters: Ethan Frome, a rural farmer; Zeena Frome, his chronically ill wife; and Mattie Silver, Zeena’s cousin who lives with them in a serving capacity. These characters each have their own journey through this story, but those journeys entwine and affect everyone else with the actions each character takes. Ethan Frome as the title character perhaps has the most important journey in this novel, though, and several recurring themes affect each of his actions and decisions. Marriage, love and desire, and desire versus duty are the themes most guiding Ethan Frome as he works through his feelings for the two women in his life because they define every step of his journey from beginning to end. To begin, Ethan’s unhappy marriage with Zeena is the starting point from which all of his decisions are made. The marriage itself happened under almost false pretenses when Zeena came to help care for his sick mother. After being in such an oppressive, silent environment for so long, “Zeena’s volubility was music in his ears,” and her capable, competent attitude “restored his shaken balance and magnified his sense of what he owed her” (26). This initial exposure to Zeena led Ethan to a kind of bedazzlement, so when he saw her ready to leave after his mother’s funeral, “he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on the farm” and asked her to stay
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