Ethan Frome Chapter 7
Mattie sets the table for supper, but Zeena does not come downstairs. Ethan goes to see his wife, who informs him that she is having "complications." People in town believe that, if one had "complications," one was sure to die from them; Ethan is no exception. He thinks of the impact of Zeena's illness on his and Mattie's potential relationship, but his compassionate, sensitive nature softens his frustration with Zeena. Ethan is sympathetic to Zeena's needs, until Zeena tells him that her doctor, Dr. Buck has recommended to get a new hired girl, and that her aunt has found her a new one already. It is clear to Ethan that Zeena seeks revenge on him and Mattie. Having a new hired girl would inflate the cost of running the farm and send a clear message to Mattie that she is no longer welcome. He lashes out at Zeena angrily. An equally angry Zeena retorts that she her sickness is a result of nursing his mother before she died. Ethan becomes enraged, but manages to keep his temper in check by being practical. He tells her that he doesn't have the money to hire an extra girl, and is forced to admit that he lied: he didn't receive money from selling the lumber. When Ethan learns of Zeena's intention to throw Mattie out, he becomes even more enraged. Zeena's responds to Ethan's protests, "She's a pauper that's hung onto us all after her father'd done his best to ruin us. I've kept her here a whole year: it's somebody else's turn now." Chapter 7, pg. 115. To Ethan's horror, Zeena pointedly remarks that she knows that he and Mattie love each other. When he hears Zeena's words, he feels powerless and under her control.
For the first time in his life he sees her differently. He sees her as:
"no longer the listless creature who had lived at his side in a state of sullen self-absorption, but a mysterious alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of silent brooding...All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others." Chapter 7, pg. 117- 118.
When Ethan tells Mattie that Zeena wants her to leave, he dreams of her drowning and him dying to be near her, feeling her next to him.
Zeena discovers the broken pickle-dish. Ethan, defiant, lies to Zeena insisting that the cat broke the dish, but Mattie admits that she was the one who brought the dish out. Zeena, enraged, lashes out at Mattie just as violently as she had with Ethan earlier.