Ethan Frome Chapter 8
Ethan retreats to his little study, the room his mother had given him when he had returned to the farm after his father's last illness. He had gone to the room to sit quietly by himself when his father and mother were ill; now that there was no available source of heat in the winter for the study, he rarely went there. Ethan feels conflicted by the confused emotions swirling in his head:
"He was too young, too strong, too full of the sap of living, to submit so easily to the destruction of his hopes. Must he wear out all his years at the side of a bitter querulous woman?" Chapter 8, pg. 130-1.
Ethan recalls man and his wife who divorced: the man ran out west with the woman he loved and with whom he had a child, and his wife sold their farm and used the profit to start and run her own restaurant. For a fleeting moment, he dreams of doing the same: running away with Mattie and leaving Zeena alone with the farm.
He starts a letter to Zeena, explaining that he has done all that he could for her, but stops. He forgets to destroy the letter. Ethan realizes that if he leaves the farm and the mill for Zeena to sell, he would have nothing for himself. Zeena would probably not receive much for the farm and mill anyway. Ethan finds a recent newspaper, and looks up a list of prices for going west; they are much too high for him to afford. He feels defeated, and knows there is no way out. He has become a "prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light was to be extinguished." Chapter 8, pg. 134. Looking at the landscape from the window, he instinctively connects the scene with Mattie and remembers how he was supposed to take her sledding today.
The next morning, Mattie visits him in his study; Ethan is surprised to see her not looking her usual self. Mattie looks pale and sad, her red scarf not even brightening up her image. Both are concerned about each other's well being and welfare.
Mattie's immediate departure makes Ethan feel helpless and powerless. Again, when he leaves the house for work, he cannot help but feel Mattie's presence in the surrounding landscape. Whatever he sees is connected with Mattie, and he makes up his mind to try to stop Mattie from leaving.
He decides to ask Andrew Hale for the money again. When he goes to the Hales', he encounters Mrs. Andrew Hale, who is incredibly sympathetic to Ethan's fate.
"I always tell Mr. Hale I don't know what [Zeena'd] 'a' done if she hadn't 'a' had you to look after her; and I used to say the same thing 'bout your mother. You've had an awful mean time, Ethan Frome" Chapter 8, pg. 142, Mrs. Hale tells him.
Ethan feels ashamed of himself for having planned to take advantage of the Hales' compassion and kindness. As he walks back home, he reflects on the horror of his fate as a poor man who would actually be as low as to consider taking advantage of a couple's kindness and pity.