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Gerard Moreno September 10, 1999

Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton


Charles Scribner’s Sons

United States of America


Plot Summary

This book begins with a Prologue and ends with an Epilogue. It begins with the narrator stuck in

the snow and unable to get home. Ethan Frome gives him a ride to his house so he can stay there and sleep

unitl the storm dies down. The narrator has always been curious about Ethan Frome and others in the New

England town that they lived in. During the narrator’s short stay at the Frome household, he learns a lot

about Ethan Frome.

The narrator begins to learn about Ethan’s early life as a young man. Ethan drops out of college

because his father is killed in an accident. He has to take care of the mill and the farm. Ethan’s mother is ill

and when her condition worsens, Ethan has to hire a nurse to take care of her. The nurse’s name is Zeena.

Ethan’s mother eventually dies and then Ethan and Zeena get married.

After six years of marriage, Zeena finds herself sick and unable to handle her household

responsibilities. Ethan’s marriage is falling apart because his wife is ill, and all of the money from his jobs are

used for Zeena’s medicines, which don’t appear to be working. Ethan then proceeds to hire a girl to take

care of the house. Her name is Mattie Silver and she is about Ethan’s age. Ethan instantly falls in love with

Mattie Silver, but he fears that Zeena knows about it. Zeena never likes Mattie and is not happy with the

work she does. She feels she is too slow and doesn’t take care of the house well enough.

After Mattie has been caring for Zeena for about a year, Zeena goes out of town to see a doctor.

The doctor tells her that her condition is severe and that it will require that she rest all day. Zeena feels that

Mattie cannot handle the household anymore and she hires a new girl to take care of the house. Zeena

states that Mattie must go. While Zeena is out during her visit to the doctor , Ethan finally realizes that

Mattie is the one woman who he would like to be with for the rest of his life. Ethan is undecided about

whether he wants to run away with her or not. Ethan knows that he can’t run away because he won’t have

enough money to support himself and Mattie, and he is devastated by this realization. The least he can do

is to drive her to her train which he decides he will do.

On their trip to the station both Mattie and Ethan reveal that they have always loved each other.

Ethan regrets not discovering this before hand. When they are near the station, they see they have some

time left before the train arrives so they get out and walk around and enjoy the surroundings. They come

upon a sled in which Ethan and Mattie go down a hill to have a last moment of fun together. They walk

back up the hill and Mattie tells Ethan to crash into a big elm tree. Ethan at first doesn’t like the idea, but

then decides to do it because he can’t face going to back to Zeena’s illness and constant nagging. So they

go down the hill and smash hard into the old elm tree. Miraculously, they both survive, but not without

suffering severe neck and spinal injuries.

Finally, the book ends with an epilogue and in the present. Everyone is in their mid to late 40’s and

Mattie has a broken back and neck. Ethan does not suffer from major injuries. Ironically, it was Zeena who

had been caring for both Ethan and Mattie after their attempted suicide.


One conflict in the novel Ethan Frome is the constant tension between Ethan and his wife Zeena.

Ethan resents his wife, he feels she is dull and complains too much. Zeena knows Ethan resents her, but

she believes that it’s because he always has to use his money to pay for her medicines. This conflict is

Man vs. Man.


One of the themes in Ethan Frome has to deal with loneliness and isolation. Ethan has always had

to do things that wouldn’t allow him to be with friends or have any enjoyment. Nobody seemed to notice

Ethan on his trips to the post office and on his way to pick up the small fee he would charge for transporting

wood. He always has to stay home to care for Zeena’s illness and complaining.

Favorite Passage

“I’m not crazy; but I will be if I leave you.” ( pg 165 ) This was said by Mattie Silver when she had

to face the dilemma of leaving Ethan. I feel that it is a very dramatic statement, said with such passion that it

had an impact on Ethan. What follows is how Ethan and Mattie attempt to commit suicide.


This setting takes place in Starkfield, New England. Ethan’s home is located on farm and mill that

Ethan owns. Starkfield is a classic old style town, with a small population and very little happening. The

time period is about the 1920’s and like in most towns back then, the men worked and the women stayed

home. It is a very secluded place where people would go for weeks without seeing each other.


Mattie Silver

Mattie Silver is a young woman who is energetic and enthusiastic. Mattie was brought up by poor

parents and had a harsh life. She is pretty sweet-hearted and loving. Ethan loves her so he doesn’t see her

flaws. For example, she is a horrible worker who is slow and cannot complete chores. Mattie is suspicious

that Ethan loves her and is flattered by this and does things to flatter him that Zeena resents. Mattie shows

her selfish love for Ethan when she proposes suicide so she and Ethan can be together forever in death.

Zeena Frome

Zeena Frome is a very unappealing and unlikable person. She is about Ethan’s age and is

constantly sick. She constantly complains and nags about everything. She has a one-sided personality in

that she doesn’t care what Ethan or anyone else has to say about an issue. Ethan gradually begins to resent

her because of all the work she has put him through. He claims that Zeena has ruined his life and that is one

of the main reasons he decides to run into the tree with Mattie. However, it is ironic that after Ethan and

Mattie’s suicide attempt, it is Zeena who spends the rest of her life caring for them.

Literary Point of View

The person in this book telling the story is a young engineer who acts as the narrator. The young

engineer is caught in a snow storm and has to stay in Ethan’s home. Here is where he describes Ethan’s life.

This narrator simply tells Ethan’s life story as it is told to him. He does not mix in his opinion or view on the

matter at hand.


I do not recommend this book for a young male teenager as myself. This book has little suspense

and action. This is a love story that would most likely be interesting to girls. Overall, I found this book very

boring and long. The book kept dragging on and seemed to never end.

Relationship to Another Work

The book Ethan Frome is similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby. In both of these

books, the focus is on love and two characters that are deeply in love. I feel that the attempted suicide was

tragic, but stupid. There are other ways of dealing with the problem faced by Ethan and Mattie. In both

books love results in tragic endings.

Extra Credit

1. Inarticulate – of a sound uttered or formed without the definite articulations of intelligible speech

The boy was inarticulate when he had to speak to the audience.

2. Indignation – anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean

The man resigned with indignation after his boss treated him disrespectfully.

3. Grotesque – departing markedly from the natural, the expected, or the typical

The dead body laying on the floor was grotesque.

4. Exquisite – marked by flawless craftsmanship or by beautiful, ingenious, delicate, or elaborate execution

I have just eaten an exquisite meal.

5. Insurmountable – incapable of being overcome

The couple had insurmountable debts.

6. Innocuous – not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility

I did not pay attention to her innocuous comments.

7. Fretter – one who annoys or bothers

He is being a fretter because he has nothing else to do.

8. Chaotically – completely disordered

The men were running chaotically around the room.

9. Poignancy -severely painful or acute to the spirit; keenly piercing; bitter;

The girl told her sad stories of childhood with poignancy.

10. Retreating – to go back or backward; withdraw; retire

The army was retreating in the face of fear.


Gerard Moreno

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