Ethan Frome: Novel Summary: Chapter 6
Next morning, Ethan feels "irrationally happy," in spite of the fact that nothing happened between him and Mattie - or possibly, because of this: ".their evening together had given him a vision of what life at her side might be, and he was glad now that he had done nothing to trouble the sweetness of the picture."
Jotham Powell eats breakfast with Ethan and Mattie. The snow has melted enough to turn the roads to glass, and Ethan decides it will be safer to load the rest of the wood immediately but to delay taking it to Starkfield until the afternoon. He asks Jotham Powell to drive to the Flats after dinner to pick up Zeena, while he himself delivers the wood. While Jotham is harnessing the horses, Ethan looks tenderly at Mattie and wants to say, "We shall never be alone again like this." But all he says is that he will be home for dinner.
After loading the wood, Ethan goes to Michael Eady's store to buy some glue to mend the pickle dish, but cannot find any. Ethan rushes off to widow Honan's store, where he finds a single bottle of glue. Ethan drives home in the rain and hurries into his kitchen. Mattie starts at his entrance and tells him that Zeena has arrived back and has gone straight up to her room without a word. He tells her not to worry; he will come down in the night and mend the dish.
He goes out to feed the horses and meets Jotham. Ethan invites Jotham to dinner, thinking that his presence will help neutralize the atmosphere now that Zeena is back. Jotham uncharacteristically refuses. As Jotham departs, Ethan wonders uneasily why he refused the invitation. Perhaps Zeena had not had a successful visit with the doctor and had taken out her frustration on Jotham on the journey home.
When Ethan goes back into the kitchen, the table is set and the scene as welcoming as it was the previous evening. She and Ethan look at each other in silence. Mattie says, just as she had said then, "I guess it's about time for supper."
Critics have debated why Ethan does not touch Mattie or take their relationship further, and why he should be happy that he did not. However, his failure to act is consistent with how he has conducted his life thus far, subjugating his own ambitions and desires in a martyred existence looking after one invalid after another. Moreover, Ethan has become used to living his life not in the present moment, but in "dreams," "visions" and "fancies." Perhaps he feels more comfortable in the realm of 'what could be' than in the realm of 'what is.'
This interpretation is reinforced by the repeated imagery of darkness, night and shadow that surrounds Ethan. For example, in Chapter 1, when he is waiting for Mattie to emerge from the bright dance hall (her natural environment is bright light, as her name suggests), he retreats into the "darkness" and "shadows." In this chapter, he says he will come downstairs in the night and secretly mend the pickle dish, just as he used to sneak downstairs in the night to scrub the floor, thereby helping Mattie and covering for her inefficiency at housekeeping.
Jungian psychologists say that the shadow side of the psyche is the side which has been denied or buried by the conscious self and which has not been brought out into the 'light' of full conscious awareness. It therefore remains unfulfilled and must seek expression in roundabout 'unconscious' ways, such as dreams, visions, fantasies and secret impulses. In Ethan's life, most of what is real, heartfelt and vital lies suppressed and hidden. His comment to Mattie, that he guesses he will be home for dinner, when he had wanted to say that this would be the last time they would be alone, is an example.
Mattie's account of Zeena's arrival home and going straight up to her room without a word, followed by Jotham's refusal of the dinner invitation, create an air of foreboding. Though everything at supper appears to be just as it was when Zeena was away, and Mattie uses exactly the same words, "I guess it's about time for supper," we feel that something bad is about to happen.