Notes on Ethan Frome Themes

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Ethan Frome Topic Tracking: Death and Isolation


Death and Isolation 1: The narrator realizes how the harshness and the loneliness of the winter might have made poor Ethan Frome suffer so much.

Death and Isolation 2: The condition and the location of the Frome's farmhouse reveal to the narrator how isolated the Fromes (especially Ethan) are. The condition of the farm indicates to the narrator that perhaps Ethan has seen happier and better times with his family than the life he is living now.

Chapter 2

Death and Isolation 3: The dead Frome relatives in the graveyard seem to call out to Ethan that he cannot escape the same fate: never to leave the bleak, miserable world of Starkfield. Ethan fears that he will end up like his dead relatives in the private graveyard, remaining in Starkfield, isolated from the rest of the community even in death.

Death and Isolation 4: The sight of Zeena opening the door for Ethan and Mattie horrifies Ethan. Zeena suddenly looks dark and ominous. The sudden vision of him and Zeena lying together in the graveyard frightens and disturbs Ethan. Not even the happy, satisfying dream of he and Mattie lying together in death can rejuvenate his spirits.

Chapter 4

Death and Isolation 5: Ethan recalls the time of his father's death and his mother's illness. He had never felt such loneliness and sadness, and Zeena came to help him nurse his sick mother. Fearful of ever feeling that sad and isolated again, Ethan married Zeena out of desperation. He felt that he could not take the winter by himself, and needed someone to be with.

Death and Isolation 6: Ethan and Zeena planned to get out of Starkfield as soon as possible, but they had had no purchasers for the farm and the mill. To add to Ethan's feelings of defeat and resignation, Zeena too became ill and silent like his mother before her death. Ethan's feelings of loneliness and coldness returned.

Death and Isolation 7: As Ethan walks past the dead Ethan Frome and his wife together in the graveyard, he fears that he and Zeena will have the same fate as his dead relatives. Being married to Zeena even in death would feel like hell to Ethan; he cannot bear the thought of lying next to Zeena forever.

Chapter 7

Death and Isolation 8: Ethan sees Zeena as a woman who is vengeful and bitter; she is cruel and heartless, intent on making Ethan and Mattie's lives horrible. He knows that Zeena does not want he and Mattie to be together, and attempts to separate them physically. When Ethan tells Mattie that she must leave by Zeena's orders, he imagines that she is drowning and that he is dying to feel her touch. Ethan feels as if he must be near Mattie or else he or she will die.

Chapter 8

Death and Isolation 9: Ethan feels frustrated and sad at the turn of events his life is taking. He is a strapping young man, ready to go out into the world, but he must remain by his sick, cruel wife's side. He feels that he is wasting his life away by being Zeena's husband and by staying in Starkfield, alone and isolated from the world.

Chapter 10

Death and Isolation 10: As Ethan and Mattie scheme to kill themselves by throwing their sled into the path of the elm tree, they hide in the shade of the spruces. Ethan feels that hiding and plotting in the shade of the spruces, where no one can see them, is like death - lying underneath the ground in their coffins. Alone in their own world in the shade of the spruces, Ethan believes that this is what death is going to be like when they kill themselves.


Death and Isolation 11: Mrs. Hale says sadly that she believes it might have been better off for Ethan if Mattie had died. As she sees it now, the sight of Ethan caring for Zeena and Mattie is heartbreaking for her. To know that Ethan and Mattie might have had a potential chance of a loving relationship is tragic, and to watch them waste their lives away in the isolated farmhouse is even more pitiful.

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