Notes on Ethan Frome Themes

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Ethan Frome Topic Tracking: Environment


Environment 1: The narrator realizes how lonely and isolated Ethan must feel, after having lived in Starkfield too long and experiencing too many tragedies. Ethan has not escaped the hard life living in Starkfield, and the narrator feels sorry for him.

Environment 2: Ethan embodies the somber and bleak landscape of Starkfield itself. The narrator thinks that Ethan is an extension of the forbidding landscape, hiding his true self underneath the harshness of winter.

Environment 3: The Frome farmhouse looks dilapidated and shabby, aside from being isolated from the rest of town. When Ethan regretfully tells the narrator that the house used to be larger in his father's day, the narrator gets the feeling that the house - and Ethan - must have seen better times in the past.

Chapter 1

Environment 4: Mattie is the only person with whom Ethan can share his love and appreciation of nature. Ethan feels that their love for nature is one of the many interests that connect them. Only Mattie can take pleasure and wonder in the sight of the landscape, which pleases her as much as it does him.

Chapter 2

Environment 5: When Ethan walks Mattie home from the dance, they pass by the big sledding hill. Ethan promises her that he will take her sledding one day, an activity that they will never forget for the rest of their lives. The sledding hill will be the ultimate factor in deciding their fate.

Environment 6: The Frome graveyard usually frightens Ethan, not because he is scared of dying, but because he fears that he will lie in the graveyard next to Zeena, the woman he does not love. Ethan used to imagine that the spirits of his deceased relatives would call out to him, "We never got away - how should you?", but now he has no fear of staying in Starkfield until death. Ethan dreams that he and Mattie will lie there.

Chapter 4

Environment 7: After his father's death, his mother soon became ill and sick in her head, imagining that the spirits of the dead Fromes would talk to her. Ethan had become so lonely from caring for his ill parents, from being pulled from his studies, and from being isolated from the rest of town, that he was actually glad when Zeena volunteered to help him nurse his mother. He was desperate for human companionship in that cold, bleak, somber winter.

Environment 8: Although the newly married Ethan and Zeena planned to get away from Starkfield as soon as possible, Ethan could not find purchasers for the Frome farm and mill. It seemed as if he and Zeena were destined to stay in Starkfield forever; their one chance of leaving the small Massachusetts town was gone.

Environment 9: Ethan's feelings of loneliness and isolation soon began to resurface when Zeena became ill and sick in her head, falling prey to the same silence as his mother. Now that they had no way out of Starkfield, Ethan felt as if the harsh, hard world of Starkfield was drowning him. He could not leave Starkfield when Zeena was so ill; he had to stay and care for her.

Environment 10: Ethan sees one gravestone in the Frome yard that bears his name as well: Ethan Frome and his wife, married for fifty-some years. Looking at the gravestone, Ethan fears that he and Zeena will have that same fate. He fears that not only will he die with Zeena at his side, but also that he will stay in Starkfield forever.

Chapter 8

Environment 11: As the realization that there is no way for him to run away west with Mattie at his side hits Ethan slowly, he feels utterly defeated and resigned to living in Starkfield as Zeena's husband. He feels like a prisoner, unable to escape the dreadful days of the long, bleak winters. Looking at the scenery around him from his window, Ethan futilely remembers that he was supposed to take Mattie sledding that very night.

Environment 12: On the day of Mattie's departure, Ethan's thoughts are focused on Mattie. Every thought of his day is connected to Mattie, especially the snow-covered landscape. The scenery surrounding him comes alive through Mattie's presence and memory. Inspired by how the landscape means so much to him and Mattie, Ethan makes up his mind to prevent Mattie from leaving Starkfield and from leaving him forever.

Chapter 9

Environment 13: The countryside reminds Ethan and Mattie of the good times they shared on the land. The landscape has become their own private retreat. As they share fond, loving memories of the landscape, Ethan cannot imagine his life without Mattie. He cannot imagine what it would feel like not to have Mattie take wonder in the surroundings with him.

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