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Zeena As A Villain In Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

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In Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Zenobia ‘Zeena’ Frome serves as the chief antagonist. Zeena is portrayed as a malcontent, apathetic wife who adds to her husband (Ethan Frome)’s feelings of imprisonment and stands as an obstacle to his desires. While readers come to support or empathize with Ethan’s dreams for a life outside of Starkfield, full of adventure and passion, Zeena is vilified and often loathed by readers. Ethan paints her as a villain because she, coupled with crushing poverty, blocks Ethan’s deepest desires. However, while portrayed as the novel’s villain, Zeena does not actively seek to ruin Ethan’s life, her nature as a villain is much more unintentional. Throughout Ethan Frome, the perspective of the narrating Ethan…show more content…
Physically and emotionally, Zeena torments Ethan by necessitating he work harder to care for her and make a living while she is unable to carry her weight. Financially, Zeena’s illness prohibits Ethan from pursuing his desires. Ethan complains of the cost of her treatments early on in the novel, how it drains their resources and limits their activities. More severely, Zeena’s need to hire a servant due to her illness would utilize the funds used to support Mattie, further restricting Ethan and increasing his trapped feelings. Even when Ethan plans to run away with Mattie, escaping his confining life with Zeena in Starkfield, he is prevented partially by the thought of Zeena’s inability to make a living off their land due to her sickliness and crushing debt (which likely has been exacerbated by her medical fees). Yet again, Zeena’s unchosen ailment prevents Ethan from obtaining freedom, positioning her as his jailer and keeping him in the prison that is Starkfield. Zeena’s very nature allows Ethan to vilify her in his descriptions in the novel. From his perspective, she is selfish, cold, and apathetic to the feelings of Mattie and himself. Ethan depicts her as a vain, callous villain. From the bias of Ethan’s perspective, Zeena represents all Mattie Silver, Ethan’s love interest, goes agains, creating a dichotomy/antithesis/juxtaP between the two foils as Mattie feels freeing
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