Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
Frome" is a short novel centering on the tragic life of a New England farmer
and his ill-fated romance with his wife's helper and housekeeper. Charles
Scribner's Sons published the work in New York in 1911.
novel begins in the the fictional town of Starkfield, Massachusetts, when
the age of the horse and buggy is in its decline. The opening section of
the story introduces the main character, Ethan Frome, when he is age fifty-two
but looks considerably older because of ordeals he has suffered. The story
then flashes back twenty-four years to tell the story of Ethan as a young
man who operates a farm and sawmill near the town.
weather and heavy snowfalls characterize the winter climate of the region.
Many of the scenes in the story are set outside town in Frome's run-down
and isolated house.
A solemn man with a scarred forehead and a limp who operates a farm and
sawmill near Starkfield, Massachusetts. Though he is fifty-two, he looks
much older. After the narrator of the novel first encounters him at the
Starkfield post office, he wonders why Frome's face is so "bleak and unapproachable"
and desires to know more about him. The narrator investigates and discovers
a vigorous man with a promising future. But he fell on hard times that
tethered him to a bleak life at his farm and prevented him from uniting
with the love of his life. After visiting Ethan's home, the narrator tells
Frome's wife. Her maiden name was Pierce. She is mean and petty and generally
speaks to Ethan only to complain or nitpick. A hypochondriac, Zeena spends
a good deal of time in bed to nurse an imaginary illness.
Daughter of a cousin of Zeena. After Zeena begins suffering symptoms of
her "illness," Mattie leaves her Connecticut hometown to live with the
Fromes and serve as the housekeeper. She receives board but no pay. She
and Ethan have an ill-fated romance.
Person unidentified by name or gender who stays at Starkfield while working
at the construction site of a power house in a nearby community. While
living in the town, the narrator~ez_mdash~probably
an interest in Frome, investigates his background, and tells his story.
Mrs. Ned Hale:
Landlady of the narrator. Her maiden name was Ruth Varnum. Mrs. Hale, a
widow, lives in a mansion that belonged to her late father, a prominent
Old Mrs. Varnum:
Mother of Mrs. Hale. Mrs. Varnum resides with her daughter.
Wealthy Starkfield grocer of Irish descent. He is attracted to Mattie Silver.
Father of Denis Eady. Michael started the grocery business.
Former stage driver who provides the narrator information about Ethan Frome.
Andrew Hale: Starkfield
builder to whom Ethan sells lumber.
Ethan's hired hand.
Dr. Buck: Worcester
physician who visits neighboring towns. Zeena sees him in Bettsbridge after
she develops pains.
Martha Pierce: Zeena's
aunt in Bettsbridge. When Zeena travels to Bettsbridge to see Dr. Buck,
she stays with Aunt Martha overnight.
Man who takes Mattie Silver's packed trunk to the train station.
Proprietor of a store where Ethan buys glue.
Fiddler at the Church
Harmonium (Reed Organ)
Player at the Church Dance
Ethan Frome's father and mother; Lawyer Varnum; Mattie Silver's mother
and father, Orin, a cousin of Zeena.
and Point of View
presents the novel in three sections.
Section 1: First-Person
narrator tells of his first encounter with Ethan Frome, age fifty-two,
in Starkfield, Massachusetts, and describes his appearance. Curious about
Frome, the narrator inquires about him and desires to know more about his
past. The narrator is living in Starkfield while working at the construction
site of a power house in a nearby community. When the narrator's regular
transportation to the site is unavailable, Frome takes him to and from
the site to earn a little extra money. On these trips, the narrator learns
a few scraps of information about Frome. One day, when a heavy snowstorm
makes it impossible to complete the return trip from the site, the narrator
stays at the Frome house overnight and learns enough about him and his
life at his farm to write a story about Frome.
Section Two: Third-Person
narrator flashes back twenty-four years to tell Frome's story from the
time that he was a young man married to Zeena to the time when he and Mattie
Silver attempt but fail to kill themselves.
Section Three: First Person
Narration (One Chapter)
narrator concludes the story with additional information about Frome, Zeena,
and Mattie provided by his landlady, Mrs. Ned Hale.
tone is generally cheerless and depressing. The cold climate and the heavy
snows that isolate one person from another tend to undergird the tone.
Examples of sentences that help set the tone are the following:
A dead cucumber-vine
dangled from the porch like the crape streamer tied to the door for a death.
(Section 2, Chapter 2)
Here and there a farmhouse
stood far back among the fields, mute and cold as a grave-stone. (Section
2, Chapter 2)
They stood together in
the gloom of the spruces, an empty world glimmering about them wide and
grey under the stars. (Section 2, Chapter 2)
The spruces swathed them
in blackness and silence. They might have been in their coffins underground.
(Section 2, Chapter 9)
narrator sees Ethan Frome for the first time at the post office in Starkfield,
Mass. Though he is no more than fifty-two, Frome looks considerably older.
looked that way ever since he had his smash-up; and that's twenty-four
years ago come next February~ez_rdquo~ (Section 1), Harmon Gow, a stage driver until
the advent of the trolley, tells the narrator, who is much younger than
accident scarred Frome's forehead and deformed his right side, causing
him to limp. But Frome's ~ez_ldquo~careless powerful look~ez_rdquo~ (Section 1) and his height
make him impressive to behold. Frome usually goes to the post office every
day around noon. Generally, there is nothing for him except a newspaper,
Bettsbridge Eagle. But sometimes there is an envelope containing medicine
for his wife, Mrs. Zenobia Frome, called Zeena. The townsfolk greet him
with the same gravity suggested by his appearance. Once in a great while,
one of the older men of the town stop to speak with him.
bigger towns of the region~ez_mdash~such as Bettsbridge and Shad's Falls~ez_mdash~have libraries
and theaters. But when winter isolates the narrator from the modern world,
he begins to realize what life was like for Frome in an earlier time.
narrator's employers had sent him to Massachusetts to work at Corbury Junction,
where a power plant is under construction. But after a strike by carpenters
suspends work, the narrator has to lodge at nearby Starkfield for the better
part of winter. December piles on the snow, and the sky clears and the
sun shines brilliantly on the glazed landscape. Then gray overcast returns
with bitter cold and more snow.
narrator resides with a widow, Mrs. Ned Hale, and her mother in a grand
mansion that was the home of Mrs. Hale's father, a prominent lawyer in
the village. Mrs. Hale is a refined lady and a storehouse of information
about the town and its people. She is just the right person, the narrator
thinks, to fill in the details about Frome's life. But when he asks her
about him, she makes only a brief comment, ~ez_ldquo~Yes, I knew them both . . .
it was awful . . . ~ez_rdquo~ (Section 1). Others in town are no more responsive,
long after his arrival in town, the arranges with Ned Eady, an Irish grocer
and owner of a livery, to provide him transportation to Corbury Flats,
where the narrator takes the train to Corbury Junction. But one day well
into winter, Eady's horses get sick with an illness that making the rounds
of stables. After two days, Harmon Gow suggests a solution: Ethan Frome.
He has a healthy bay and needs money. His sawmill and poor crop yield had
made him hardly enough profit to get through the winter. In earlier days,
Frome worked his enterprises from morning to night and, says Gow, ~ez_ldquo~kinder
choked a living out of 'em~ez_rdquo~ (Section 1). Now, it's even harder for him.
his father got a kick, out haying, and went soft in the brain, and gave
away money like Bible texts afore he died,~ez_rdquo~ Gow says. ~ez_ldquo~Then his mother
got queer and dragged along for years as weak as a baby~ez_rdquo~ (Section 1).
morning, Ethan drives his sleigh two miles into town, then takes the narrator
Corbury Flats three miles from Starkfield. And each evening, he picks him
up for the return trip. The only time he speaks is to answer a question~ez_mdash~and
then in monosyllables. Curious about Frome, he wants to know something
of his history. He wants to know what put that look on his face~ez_mdash~~ez_ldquo~as if
he was dead and in hell~ez_rdquo~ (Section 1).
morning, a heavy snowstorm severely limits travel, but Frome arrives as
usual for his passenger. Because a train stuck in the snow blocks their
regular route, Frome takes another route that extends their journey to
bay'll do it if you give him time,~ez_rdquo~ Frome says. ~ez_ldquo~You said you had some
business there this afternoon. I'll see you get there" (Section 1).
the return trip in the afternoon, the snow begins to fall again, accumulating
rapidly, and they make it only so far as Frome's house. Frome then welcomes
the narrator to stay for the night. It is then that the narrator learns
the story of Ethan Frome. The narrator then flashes back twenty-four years
to tell Frome's story.
Twenty-Four Years Earlier
a snowfall of two feet, young Ethan Frome walks through the village to
the white-steepled Congregational church~ez_mdash~past Irishman Michael Eady's grocery
and Lawyer Varnum's mansion. Several years before, he was studying at a
technology college in Worcester, but his father's death ended his education.
His time at Worcester had given him just enough knowledge to speculate
on the meanings behind daily events.
the church, a dance is in progress. A fiddler and an organist are providing
the music. Frome posts himself outside a window and peers inside. During
a Virginia reel, he observes a woman with dark hair and a slender figure
moving down a line. Her partner is Denis Eady~ez_mdash~son of the grocer~ez_mdash~who looks
upon the girl as if he owns her.
the narrator says, ~ez_ldquo~Ethan Frome had been content to think him a mean fellow;
but now he positively invited a horse-whipping~ez_rdquo~ (Section 2, Chapter 1).
girl's name is Mattie Silver, the cousin of his wife, Zeena. She had come
from Stamford, Connecticut, to live with the Fromes to help Zeena, who
Whenever Mattie goes to
Starkfield for some amusement, Ethan accompanies her to and from the town.
He had balked at first when Zeena asked him to perform this occasional
chore. Now he looks forward to it. He is aware of Mattie's beauty, and
he enjoys talking with her and telling her things.
Orion down yonder,~ez_rdquo~ he would say, using his learning from the college.
~ez_ldquo~The big fellow to the right is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones~ez_mdash~like
bees swarming~ez_mdash~they're the Pleiades . . ." (Section 2, Chapter 1).
the church dance, he notices with dismay that she gives her young partners
the same looks that she gives him. He had thought that such looks were
reserved only for him. Zeena had never spoken of Mattie as a rival, but
lately she has been complaining about the inefficiency of her housework.
Ethan has to admit that Mattie is not the best of housekeepers.
winter morning while Ethan is dressing, Zeena says to him, "The doctor
don't want I should be left without anybody to do for me."
Ethan asks what she means, Zeena says she might be left without help if
Mattie marries Denis Eady. Ethan replies, "Denis Eady! If that's all, I
guess there's no such hurry to look round for a girl" (Section 2, Chapter
hurries dressing, saying he has to get to work. Zeena replies, "I guess
you're always late, now you shave every morning" (Section 2, Chapter 1).
This remark is a hint that ever since Mattie arrived Ethan has made it
a point to shave every morning. That is Zeena's way~ez_mdash~letting things happen
and then, weeks later, making an oblique remark about them.
recalls these incidents involving Zeena while he is waiting at the dance
for Mattie. When the dance ends, he is standing in shadows outside the
church door. After the dancers exit, he sees Denis Eady approach Mattie
and offer her a ride home in the cutter he borrowed from his father. But
Mattie refuses to get in. He tries to persuade her and snatches at her
arm, but she runs away. Ethan makes himself known, and he and Mattie begin
the walk home~ez_mdash~arm in arm. When they reach the top of a hill on Corbury
Road, she mentions that a lot of people have been sledding down the icy
slope in front of them. Ethan then promises to take her sledding.
they walk on, Ethan asks whether it is true what people are saying about
her, that she is leaving the Fromes' employ. Sensing that Zeena had put
the idea of her leaving in Ethan's head, she admits that she has shortcomings
as a housekeeper but says Zeena ought to voice her complaints as a cue
for Mattie to try harder. Ethan, too, should speak up, she says~ez_mdash~~ez_ldquo~unless
you want me to go too~ez_rdquo~ (Section 2, Chapter 2). Frome is pleased that
she is concerned about what he thinks. But he simply says, ~ez_ldquo~Come along.~ez_rdquo~
When they reach the gate at Ethan's home, he says, ~ez_ldquo~Then you don't want
to leave us, Matt?~ez_rdquo~ She says, ~ez_ldquo~Where'd I go, if I did?~ez_rdquo~ (Section 2, Chapter
2). Inside, Zeena greets them coldly, then retires.
next day, Ethan spends the morning preparing a load of wood for Andrew
Hale, a builder in Starkfield. When he returns home, he finds Zeena in
her best dress. She tells him that she has had severe shooting pains and
will be going to Bettsbridge to see a new physician. She will be staying
overnight with her aunt, Martha Pierce. She asks Ethan to allow a hired
hand, Jotham Powell, to drive her to the train stop.
course Jotham'll drive you over,~ez_rdquo~ Ethan says (Section 2, Chapter 3).
Ethan is thinking that he will have a night alone with Mattie.
evening, Ethan and Mattie enjoy supper and later sit at the fireplace.
Their passions are high, but the invisible presence of Zeena comes between
them. They retire to their separate bedrooms at eleven o'clock.
next day, Ethan goes out to buy glue to piece together a red pickle dish~ez_mdash~Zeena's
favorite dish~ez_mdash~that the cat knocked off the supper table the previous evening.
He does not want Zeena to find it in pieces. After he returns, Mattie tells
him that Zeena has come back and is upstairs in her room. When Ethan goes
in to see her, she says, ~ez_ldquo~I'm a great deal sicker than you think . . .
I've got complications~ez_rdquo~ (Section 2, Chapter 7). In Starkfield, no one ever
uses the word complications unless it refers to a very serious illness.
Ethan says, "What do you know about this doctor anyway? Nobody ever told
you that before" (Section 2, Chapter 7).
replies, "I didn't need to have anybody tell me I was losing ground every
day. Everybody but you could see it. And everybody in Bettsbridge knows
about Dr. Buck . . . Eliza Spears was wasting away with kidney trouble
before she went to him, and now she's up and around, and singing in the
choir" (Section 2, Chapter 7).
says the doctor wants her to hire another girl to do all the housework
and that Aunt Martha has found one. This revelation angers Ethan. He now
suspects that Zeena went to Bettsbridge for the sole purpose of finding
another housekeeper. And the expense~ez_mdash~he would have to dig deep into his
pocket to pay regular weekly wages to the new housekeeper. He asks sarcastically
whether the doctor told her how Ethan was to come up with the money.
he didn't,~ez_rdquo~ she answers. "For I'd 'a' been ashamed to tell him that you
grudged me the money to get back my health, when I lost it nursing your
own mother!" (Section 2, Chapter 7). (Zeena, a cousin of Ethan, had come
to the Frome house to nurse his mother when she was dying. After Mrs. Frome
died, Ethan married Zeena out of loneliness.)
says he lacks the money to pay regular wages to a housekeeper. (Mattie
is receiving no pay, only board.) Zeena says that she will die if she has
to go on ~ez_ldquo~slaving the way I've had to~ez_rdquo~ (Section 2, Chapter 7). Mattie will
have to be replaced with a more competent housekeeper. Ethan argues that
Mattie is a ~ez_ldquo~poor girl without friends or money~ez_rdquo~ (Section 2, Chapter 7)
and reminds Zeena that Mattie is her relative. What will people say if
Zeena puts her out? But Zeena knows why Ethan wants Mattie to stay~ez_mdash~that
there is something between them~ez_mdash~and she tells Ethan so and clinches the
argument. Mattie has to go.
supper later, Mattie says she might be able to get work in Stamford. But
Ethan says he has decided that Mattie should stay. Zeena always gets her
way, he says, but not this time. Zeena comes downstairs to eat, and the
other two quietly finish their meal with her. After the meal, Zeena develops
heartburn and goes into another room to find her stomach powders. When
she returns, she is raging with anger as she carries the pieces of the
broken pickle dish. Mattie tells her that she used it while Zeena was away
to make the supper table more attractive. However, she says, the cat got
onto the table and knocked it down.
wanted to make the supper-table pretty," Zeena says, "and you waited till
my back was turned, and took the thing I set most store by of anything
I've got, and wouldn't never use it, not even when the minister come to
dinner, or Aunt Martha Pierce come over from Bettsbridge" (Section 2, Chapter
now considers running away with Mattie. However, he has no savings. In
fact, he had to borrow money to make repairs to his property. He has no
security left to borrow more.
inexorable facts closed in on him like prison-warders handcuffing a convict,"
the narrator says. "There was no way out~ez_mdash~none. He was a prisoner for life,
and now his one ray of light [Mattie] was to be extinguished~ez_rdquo~ (Section
2, Chapter 8).
wants Jotham Powell to take Mattie to the station to catch a train for
Stamford, but Ethan declares that he is going to take Mattie himself. On
the way, he and Mattie reminisce. He asks her what she will do, and she
says she will look for work in a store.
suppose you'll marry?~ez_rdquo~ he says (Section 2, Chapter 9).
says she wishes she were dead. No one has even been so kind to her as Ethan,
she says. When they reach the top of Corbury Road, Ethan spies a sled along
the road and proposes that they coast down the hill. They get in and speed
gleefully to the bottom, past a big elm tree.
you scared I'd run into the elm?~ez_rdquo~ Ethan says (Section 2, Chapter 9).
says she is never scared with him. On their way back up the hill, they
kiss. They both vow that they cannot part from each other. Then they decide
to take another ride down the hill~ez_mdash~and to crash into the elm tree. But
their suicide attempt fails.
Twenty-Four Years Later
years later~ez_mdash~on the night of the heavy snowfall~ez_mdash~the narrator enters the
Frome house with Ethan and sees two gray-haired women in the kitchen of
the shabby dwelling. One, tall and bony, rises from a chair to make dinner.
The other sits in an armchair near the stove. When Frome remarks about
how cold it is in the house, the woman in the armchair says the tall woman
fell asleep, allowing the fire to die down. The former then says she had
to awaken the tall woman to get her to tend the fire, which is only now
coming to life. Ethan introduces the tall woman as his wife, Zeena Frome,
and the woman in the armchair as Mattie Silver.
the narrator returns to Mrs. Hale's the next morning, he tells her and
her mother, Mrs. Varnum, what happened. They are surprised to learn that
Ethan had taken the narrator to and from the construction site at Corbury
Junction and, during a blizzard, had housed the narrator overnight.
don't believe but what you're the only stranger has set foot in that house
for over twenty years,~ez_rdquo~ Mrs. Hale says (Section 3).
herself visits the house on occasion, usually at New Year's and once in
the summer. But she does not enjoy seeing the tragic faces there. Mrs.
Hale then reveals what happened after Ethan and Mattie's suicide attempt.
was here in the house when they were carried up~ez_mdash~they laid Mattie Silver
in the room you're in. She and I were great friends, and she was to have
been my bridesmaid in the spring . . . When she came to I went up to her
and stayed all night~ez_rdquo~ (Section 3).
Zeena was informed of what happened, she immediately went to the home where
Ethan had been taken for treatment. Then, when physicians said Mattie was
well enough to be moved, Zeena took her in.
done for her, and done for Ethan, as good as she could," Mrs. Hale says.
"It was a miracle, considering how sick she was~ez_mdash~but she seemed to be raised
right up just when the call came to her~ez_rdquo~ (Section 3).
became cranky over time, and she and Zeena often argued. But Mrs. Hale
thinks Ethan suffered the most over the years.
Frome is in conflict with his wife, Zeena, and with his economic circumstances,
his moral convictions, and his isolated environment. Mattie Silver is also
in conflict with Zeena, who views Mattie as an incompetent housekeeper
and decides to replace her.
climax occurs when Ethan and Mattie decide to attempt suicide by crashing
their sled into a tree.
Frome as Fortune's Fool
treats Ethan Frome cruelly. As a young man, he had a promising future while
studying for a technical career in Worcester. Then his father suffered
a brain injury in a farm accident, and Ethan had to end his education~ez_mdash~and
his dream of bettering himself~ez_mdash~to return home to attend his father and
run the farm and sawmill. .......According
to Harmon Gow, Ethan's father was giving away money ~ez_ldquo~like Bible texts~ez_rdquo~
(Section 1) in his last days. After he died, Ethan's mother became ill
and slowly declined. When she was in the final stages of her illness, her
cousin Zenobia Pierce (Zeena) came to the Frome house to help care for
his mother died, Ethan married Zeena for the company she would provide
in his isolated surroundings. They did not love each other; it was a marriage
of convenience. But Zeena then became sickly herself. However, her illness
was imaginary; she was a hypochondriac. Over time, she became irritable
and bad-tempered. Meanwhile, Ethan had to keep up the farm and sawmill
while attending her.
Mattie Silver appeared to help out. Ethan and she fell in love. But Zeena's
presence and her dominant personality came between them. Moreover, the
Puritan moral ethic~ez_mdash~passed onto Ethan and other Starkfield residents over
the centuries~ez_mdash~prevented Ethan from betraying his wife in her own house.
And then there was social convention: What would people say if Ethan openly
carried on a romance with Mattie? Finally, Ethan was impoverished. He could
not afford to to run off with Mattie; he could not afford a divorce and
many circumstances~ez_mdash~too many forces beyond his control~ez_mdash~were conspiring against
Ethan. He was, in the words of Shakespeare, ~ez_ldquo~fortune's fool~ez_rdquo~ (Romeo
and Juliet, 3.1.103). Because he and Mattie saw no way out for themselves,
they attempted suicide. But they survived and lived on, psychologically
and physically maimed, under the dour tendance of Zeena.
isolate many of the characters.
marries out of loneliness but ends up with a wife who rarely speaks to
him except to complain. The climate, the remoteness of his home, and his
Puritan heritage deepen Ethan's isolation. The narrator observes,
seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen
woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface;
but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he
lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I
had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal
plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had
hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters." (Section
withdraws into herself, becoming an irritable hypochondriac, after the
isolated farm works its effect on her. Mattie Silver loses her father,
then her mother, and faces the world alone at age twenty. Her health suffers
when she tries stenography and fails to improve after six months in a department
store. When she joins the Frome household and falls in love with Ethan,
Zeena and propriety come between them. Except for brief snatches of conversation
with him~ez_mdash~and her walks with him back from her night in town~ez_mdash~she too lives
and the death of her husband isolated Old Mrs. Frome. She even had difficulty
moving from one room to another.
imaginary sickness is her way of calling attention to herself. Acting like
a martyr bolsters her self-esteem and garners her the sympathy of the townspeople.
As the narrator points out, within a year of her marriage to Ethan ~ez_ldquo~she
developed the 'sickliness' which had since made her notable even in a community
rich in pathological instances" (Section 2, Chapter 4).
the suicide attempt of Ethan and Mattie, Zeena rallies and takes care of
the debilitated Mattie in her own home. But Zeena's seemingly commendable
deeds appear to be her way of telling the world that she leads a hard life,
an impossibly difficult life. In her mind, the burden of caring for Mattie
demonstrates her heroism in the face of suffering.
Hopes and Ambitions
Frome aspired to success in a technical or scientific career while attending
a college in Worcester. But his father's accident forced him to return
home and work the farm and sawmill while attending his father. After his
father died and his mother became ill, Ethan had no choice but to abandon
his education and accept the rigors of daily life on the farm. The final
blow came when Zeena ended his hope of having a future with Mattie Silver.
appears unlikely that Mattie had any special aspirations other than to
be with Ethan. But it is possible that she had musical talent, as the following
sentence suggests:" Mattie, at twenty, was left alone to make her way on
the fifty dollars obtained from the sale of her piano" (Section 2, Chapter
The Cat: Zeena. When
Ethan and Mattie are dining alone, Ethan says, "I suppose he [Jotham Powell]
got Zeena over to the Flats all right?" Mattie answers that he did. But
the mention of Zeena's name casts a pall over the dinner. The cat then
ruins their meal by jumping onto the table and knocking the pickle dish
off; it shatters. Mattie becomes upset, aware that it was Zeena favorite
wedding gift from Zeena's aunt in Philadelphia.
Zeena's Shattered Pickle
broken relationship between Ethan and Zeena.
Starkfield: As the
name suggests, the dreariness of life at Starkfield~ez_mdash~in
the bleak, stark, snow-covered landscape of the region.
Cold Weather: The
coldness of the relationship between Ethan and Zeena.
Mattie's Red Fascinator
(Scarf) and Red Ribbon:
The vibrancy and passion of Mattie. Like a glowing fire, she brings warmth
to the cold Frome house and enkindles Ethan's love for her.
Hemlocks: The tragic
outcome of the relationship between Ethan and Mattie. See Foreshadowings
for additional information.
last name symbolizes her shining presence in Ethan's life.
Ethan's Run-Down Home:
His ruined life.
The Railroad: The
march of progress that Ethan hoped to be a part of when he was attending
college. The railroad passes through Starkfield but does not stop.
The Elm Tree
references to the elm tree at the bottom of the sledding course in Starkfield
foreshadow the attempted suicide of Ethan and Mattie. Following are examples
of these references.
"Ned Hale and Ruth
Varnum came just as near running into the big elm at the bottom. We were
all sure they were killed." Her shiver ran down his arm. "Wouldn't it have
been too awful?" (Section 2, Chapter 2)
"The elm is dangerous, though.
It ought to be cut down," she insisted. (Section 2, Chapter 2)
Mattie sat perfectly still,
but as they reached the bend at the foot of the hill, where the big elm
thrust out a deadly elbow, he fancied that she shrank a little closer.
(Section 2, Chapter 9)
following sentences may also foreshadow the attempted suicide.
And there were other
sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together
with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter
A hemlock plant is poisonous.
One species of the plant, Conium maculatum, is extremely toxic.
People have frequently used hemlock preparations to commit suicide. The
hemlock tree, an evergreen, is not poisonous. However, it is possible that
the author used the word hemlock to suggest a tragic outcome to
the romance of Ethan and Mattie.
hills, the flight of cloud-flocks
over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks
on sunlit snow. (Section 2, Chapter 1)
They [Ethan and Mattie] walked
on in silence through the blackness of the hemlock-shaded lane,
where Ethan's sawmill gloomed through the night. On the farther side of
the hemlock belt the open country rolled away before them grey and lonely
under the stars. (Section
2, Chapter 2)
They had reached the point
where the road dipped to the hollow by Ethan's mill and as they descended
the darkness descended with them, dropping down like a black veil
from the heavy hemlock boughs. (Section 2, Chapter 9)
are examples of figures of speech in Ethan Frome. For definitions
of figures of speech, see Literary
pushed on to the Junction through the wild
scene. (Section 1)
began to fall
of direction, and the bay's homing
us. (Section 1)
ray now and then lit
up a face
and dancing. (Section 2, Chapter 2)
chairs and a kitchen
dresser of unpainted pine stood
meagrely against the plaster walls. (Section 3)
words were like fragments torn from his heart. With them came the hated
vision of the house he was going back
to~ez_mdash~of the stairs he would have to go
up every night, of the woman who would
wait for him there. (Section
2, Chapter 9)
young man with a sprightly foot and a shock
of black hair shot into the middle
of the floor and clapped his hands. (Section 2, Chapter
black wraith of a deciduous creeper flapped from the porch. (Section 1)
of the creeping plant to a ghost (wraith)
a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung like icicles. (Section
2, Chapter 1)
comparison of the sky to iron
comparison of the points of the Big Dipper to icicles
and Mattie live for the moments when they can be alone, away from the critical
eye of Zeena. But they both end up spending the rest of their lives, physically
and psychologically marred, in Zeena's presence.
sky, swollen with the clouds that announce a thaw, hung as low as before
a summer storm. (Section 2, Chapter 9)
of the clouds to persons making an announcement
Questions and Writing Topics
of Mattie's face to a wheat field
Frome drove in silence . . . his brown seamed profile, under the helmet-like
peak of the cap, relieved against the banks of snow like the bronze image
of a hero. (Section 1)
of Frome's profile to that of hero depicted by a bronze statue or bust
came to an orchard of starved apple-trees writhing over a hillside among
outcroppings of slate that nuzzled up through the snow like animals pushing
out their noses to breathe. (Section 1)
of the slate to animals
. . . belaboured their instruments like jockeys lashing their mounts on
the home-stretch. (Section 2, Chapter 1)
his eyes fixed on her, marvelling at the way her face changed with each
turn of their talk, like a wheat-field under a summer breeze. (Section
2, Chapter 5)
What does the name Ethan
mean? Is the name an appropriate choice for the protagonist?
In ancient history, who was
Zenobia? Is the name an appropriate choice for Ethan's wife?
How did the beginning of train
service near Starkfield affect Ethan's mother?
Write a short psychological
profile of Ethan Frome or his wife. Use information from the novel, as
well as library and Internet research, to support your thesis.
If you encountered Ethan Frome
and Mattie before their suicide attempt, what would you say to try to persuade
them to seek another solution to their problem?