Ethan Frome Chapter 4
With Zeena away, the farm becomes a warm and happy place. Ethan imagines their night alone will feel like time spent as a happily married couple. This image of life gives him such pleasure that he actually feels cheerful when returning home from the village.
Ethan had always been quiet when he was growing up; after his father's death, his feelings of solitude and loneliness had gradually deepened. His mother became ill after his father died, and soon refused to talk; she wanted to listen to the sounds of the dead Fromes in the graveyard. Ethan became so lonely in the farmhouse that he welcomed the help of his cousin, Zenobia Pierce, to care for his mother. His father's death and his mother's illness had brought unwelcome sadness and incomprehensible isolation to Ethan, and Zeena's presence gave him happiness and security once again.
Not only did Ethan admire Zeena's efficiency in caring for his mother, she restored his sense of duty; he felt he owed her so much for all that she had done for him. Ethan feared that had it not been for Zeena, he might have shut the rest of the world out completely, as his mother had done. After his mother died, Ethan dreaded being alone again on the farm, so he asked Zeena to marry him. They both wanted to leave Starkfield for larger towns where Ethan could learn more about engineering, but they could not sell the farm and the mill as quickly as they hoped.
Ethan could not find purchasers for the farm, and he began to realize the impossibility of moving; Zeena became ill within a year after they married. Ethan's fear of loneliness resurfaced as Zeena, now sickly, would hardly talk, like his mother. She would rarely speak to him, either because the hard farm life had taken its toll on her, or because "Ethan never listened." Chapter 4, pg. 72.
Zeena's silence troubled him then as it does now; he knows that her silence makes her thoughts, suspicions, and feelings impossible to know. Zeena's silence only assures Ethan that she suspects his feelings for Mattie. He regrets telling Zeena that he is going to collect cash for lumber when he knows full well that he will not receive the money. He also knows that Zeena will see through his excuse. Ethan decides to ask Andrew Hale for an advance in the money. He feels ashamed to ask Andrew for the money; after Ethan's father died, it took him a while before the farm could make a profit. Ethan did not want anyone in Starkfield to think that he was poor and destitute again. Hale refuses to give Ethan the money, as Ethan had expected.
On Ethan's way home, he passes the graveyard and looks at one stone, which bears the name of another Frome relative whose name is also Ethan. The dead Ethan had been married for fifty years, a fate which Ethan fears that he will have with Zeena.
When Mattie opens the door for him, Ethan is struck by her appearance. Mattie holds a lamp that brings out the color of her skin and features, and wears a crimson ribbon that suddenly transforms her into a beautiful and vibrant woman. Ethan believes that she looks "taller, fuller, more womanly in shape and motion." Chapter 4, pg. 82.
Mattie has prepared a warm supper for the two of them, but Zeena's image are deep in their thoughts. The cat, Puss, accidentally knocks over Zeena's red pickle-dish, which throws Mattie into great despair.
She tells him that Zeena would be so angry to learn that her dish broke, for she had kept it safe on the top shelf and required her permission to use it. Ethan thinks of gluing the pieces back together. He tells an anguished Mattie that the dish will be fine.