Notes on Characters from Ethan Frome

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Ethan Frome Major Characters

The narrator: The narrator introduces the character of Ethan Frome into the storyline. He lives in Starkfield, Massachusetts, and is driven to the local train station every day for work and back. When his driver is unable to take him, he suggests that the narrator ask the crippled Ethan Frome to drive him to the station. Ethan is in need of money and would be willing to drive him to the station for a small wage. One snowy day, the narrator decides to stay at the Frome farm, at Ethan's invitation, on account of the huge amount of snow blocking their path. When the narrator is inside the Fromes' house, only then does he suspect what makes Ethan so miserable: the two women he must live with.

Ethan Frome: The protagonist of the novel, crippled and miserable. His parents' death leave Ethan with no other choice but to maintain his parents' farm in Starkfield, Massachusetts. Instead of finishing his studies as an engineer, he marries Zeena Pierce, a cousin of his mother's, who helped him care for his sick mother. When Zeena herself becomes ill, Ethan is obligated to care for her. Ethan had decided to marry Zeena out of loneliness. Later, Ethan falls in love with Zeena's cousin, Mattie. Mattie's personality is both warm and affectionate; two qualities Ethan's marriage lacks. When Zeena decides to hire another girl to help with household chores, and to throw Mattie out, Ethan tries to think of ways he could leave with her. Now that Zeena knows of his love for Mattie, he wants to be with her and leave the farm. Ethan thinks of taking Mattie and running west, but realizes that he does not have enough money to cover the travel costs. He knows that even if Zeena sold the farm, she would not earn enough to survive. Going west is only a foolish dream. On the day of Mattie's departure, Ethan takes Mattie out sledding, where they try to kill themselves. They somehow survive the crash. Ethan ends up crippled and becomes more frail, living with the invalid Mattie and the cruel and bitter Zeena, with no hope of ever regaining the days when he and Mattie were in love.

Zenobia (Zeena) Pierce Frome: Ethan's sickly wife. She knows about Ethan and Mattie's love for one another and suspects that Ethan wants to be with Mattie rather than her. After a trip to see Dr. Buck, Zeena decides to force Mattie to leave and bring on a new hired girl to oversee the household chores. This will ensure that Mattie and Ethan are apart. Her discovery of the broken pickle-dish gives her another reason to hate Mattie and throw her out. Mattie and Ethan's sledding crash leaves Mattie more helpless than Zeena and forces Ethan to take care of both Zeena and Mattie.

Mattie Silver: Zeena's cheerful, sweet cousin who comes to Starkfield to help Ethan care for Zeena. She is the daughter of a poor and disgraced father, who embarrassed the Pierce family. Always associated with the color red, she falls in love with Ethan. When Zeena deliberately hires a new girl to care for her, Mattie is forced to leave. Mattie and Ethan cannot bear to let each other go, and she tells Ethan, as they sled down a steep hill, to steer in the path of an elm tree. Rather than being killed, Ethan is crippled and Mattie ends up as an invalid with Zeena helping to care for her.

Minor Characters

Harmon Gow: Harmon Gow informs the narrator of the beginning of Ethan's tragic story. He also suggests that the narrator ask Ethan to drive him to the local train station for work every day, an idea that introduces the narrator to Ethan.

Ned Hale: A friend of the Fromes. Ned is engaged to Ruth Varnum. Ned Hale is the son of the town builder.

Ruth Varnum Hale (Mrs. Ned Hale): A friend of the Fromes. Later, when she and Ned are married and she is a middle-aged woman, she recounts the fates of Ethan and Mattie after they crash into the tree to the narrator.

Denis Eady: Denis Eady, the son of the town grocer, likes Mattie and dances with her. He offers to walk her home. Ethan is jealous of Denis' attention to Mattie. Later, Denis drives the narrator to the local train station for work.

Andrew Hale: The Starkfield builder who refuses to advance Ethan fifty dollars. He asks Ethan if he is destitute and in need of money. Ethan is too proud not to take Andrew's money after that.

Jotham Powell: The Fromes' hired man. He is to take Mattie to the train station on the day she is forced to leave, but Ethan interferes and tells Zeena pointedly that he will take Mattie himself.

Dr. Buck: The doctor whom Zeena goes to see for her 'shooting pains' and who tells her to hire a new girl to do the housework.

Mrs. Andrew Hale: When Ethan considers asking the Hales for money again, he decides to lie, hoping that the lie he feeds them would persuade them to give him money. He talks to Mrs. Hale, who is sympathetic to Ethan's dreary and sad life, and decides not to lie to the Hales, who have been kind to them. He knows that deceiving the Hales would be wrong.

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