Ethan Frome


By Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome, the main character in the book entitled "Ethan
Frome", by Edith Wharton, has many complex problems going
on at the same time. His family has died and he has a wife
that is continuously sick. The only form of happiness he
has is from his wife's cousin Mattie. This, however, at
times proves to be hard because of his wife's interference.
Nothing seems to be going in Ethan's favor. 

The main theme of the book is failure, and this is shown
through marrying his wife, not being able to stand up to
his wife, and his involvement concerning the "smash up."
The first failure as shown in the book is through the
relationship of Ethan and his wife. He married her because
she had tried to help his mother recover from an illness,
and once his mother died he could not bear the thought of
living in the house alone. His wife was seven years his
senior and always seemed to have some kind of illness. It
seemed all she ever did was complain, and he resented this
because it stifled his growing soul. Since his wife was
continuously ill, and her cousin needed a place to stay,
they took her in to help around the house. Ethan took an
immediate propensity to her cousin, Mattie, because she
brought a bright light upon his dismal day. He seemed to
have found someone that cared for him, was always happy and
could share his youth, unlike his sickly wife who always
nagged him. He longed to be with Mattie, however he had
loyalty to his wife. Being married to the wrong person
proved to be Ethan's first failure. 

Ethan's second failure was not being able to stand up
against his wife. His wife claimed that a new doctor said
that she was extremely sick, and needed more help around
the house. She told him without any discussion that Mattie
had to go. Ethan could not find the words to make her alter
her decision. His wife also decided that Mattie had to
leave the next day and Ethan could not do anything about
it. It was stated in the book that his wife had the upper
hand in the house by the line "Now she [his wife] had
mastered him [Ethan] and he obeyed her." Ethan just could
not find the right things to say and it was because of his
failure of not being able to stand up to his wife, he was
going to lose the only thing that made him happy. 

Ethan's last failure was the way he modified his and
Mattie's lives regarding the "smash up." He so desperately
wanted to run away with Mattie, but he could not because
his practical sense told him it was not feasible to do so.
Mattie wanted so desperately to be with Ethan, that she
suggested in order to stay together forever, was to die
together. It was Ethan's job to steer into the tree with
the sled so that it looked like an accidental death instead
of suicide. Instead of running square into the tree, he did
not hit the tree right and it did not kill either of them.
Instead it just injured them , and these injuries stayed
with them forever. In this way Ethan had his last failure
in not suceeding to die with his love, instead he had to
live with the guilt from his wife, the injured Mattie, and
broken dreams. 

In these three ways, of marrying the wrong person, not
being able to stand up to his wife, and incidents that come
from the smash up, proves that the main theme of the book
is failure. It seemed that everything Ethan tried to do,
worked against his favor. With all the incidents that
happened it seemed inevitable that his life would always be
a string of failure. 


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