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How did Ethan try to escape Starkfield

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The book Ethan Frome was written in a narrator’s point of view, although the actual story is in Ethan’s thoughts and his actions. The book runs around two main themes, the fight between love and public standard and the effects that a harsh winter climate can have on a person’s spirit. These themes affect Ethan’s character and make him very upset, lonely and very unhappy. Overwhelmed with his duty to his wife he becomes stuck in Starkfield in a way he is frozen like the landscape around him, “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters,” a local tells the narrator.

Ethan grew up with a desire to escape Starkfield for bigger cities, and also had a great desire for a career in science. His first attempt to escaping Starkfield was leaving for college. He has to return when his father gets kicked in the head by a horse and dies. He stays and helps his mother on the farm but soon his mother becomes ill, so he invites a distant family member Zeena to help him around the house and look after his mother.

Zeena looks after his mother and Ethan very well but his mother still died ‘After the funeral, when he saw her preparing to go away, he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on the farm; and before he knew what he was doing he had asked her to stay with him. ‘ He could have sold the farm and used the money for his second escape attempt to the city, ‘he had often thought since that it would not have happened if his mother had died in the spring instead of winter. but no matter what he had done the farm was not easy to sell because it was out of the village and the soil for farming was not very good. A few years later Zeena became very ill.

Ethan knew he could not move her to the city so he therefore became stuck in Starkfield for good. Zeena’s illness prevented her from being able to do jobs around the house so she called upon a distant cousin, Mattie Silver, to help around the house and help look after the farm. Mattie and Ethan fall secretly in love with each other over the year Mattie had lived with them and Zeena starts to get a feeling that there is something going on.

Zeena goes away to see a doctor in Corbury Flats leaving Ethan and Mattie alone for the evening. Mattie made Ethan a dinner of soup, doughnuts and sweet pickles. The pickles were in a dish which was a wedding present for Ethan and Zeena from Zeena’s cousin. Half way through dinner the cat jumps onto the table and knocks the dish onto the floor where it smashed. Mattie was very upset as Zeena had never meant for the dish to be used. ‘She never meant for it to be used, not even with company,’ Mattie says trying to put the pieces back together knowing Zeena would be very angry.

Ethan feels sorry for Mattie and understands she was only trying to do a nice thing for him. He plans to put it back on the shelf and hope Zeena would not notice and replace it without her knowing, Mattie insists he will not find one like it but Ethan is determined to help Mattie as he loves her. Ethan and Mattie fall deeply in love with each other, although they try to deny it they could not help it. Ethan could not deny it anymore and planned out how they could run away together. He thought over and over again about how they could do it.

He remembered he had heard of a man who had a divorce and moved away with a woman that wasn’t his wife and how they now lived in the city and how his wife had opened a little tea shop with the money he had left her and was doing well off of it. He thought he could do the same sell the farm and give some of the money to Zeena so she could get by and then he and Mattie could move to the city and he and Mattie could get a job and send money to Zeena. They could get the train into the city and start again. Ethan was very excited at the thought of living with Mattie but realised he only had enough money for one train ticket.

He thought if he went and found a job and got settled down he could send for Mattie when he was financially ready. Ethan realised he could not leave Zeena as she was so ill and but her through everything and then leave her. When Zeena returns from Corbury Heights she says she is very ill and the doctor insists they get a hired girl and get rid of Mattie. Ethan exclaims that Mattie is a great deal better than a hired girl and a lot cheaper. Zeena does not agree and insists she has to go. Mattie calls them for dinner but only Ethan and Mattie sit down to eat.

Mattie questions him asking what is going on and Ethan insists everything is fine but is unable to eat. Ethan stands up and walks over to her, ‘Ethan takes her into his arms and kisses her fully upon the lips. ‘ Mattie pulls away trying to make sense of what is happening when with a violent outburst, Ethan declares that Mattie must not go. She realises Zeena insists she is to leave. They sit in silence when Zeena comes in and sits down to eat her supper. After her meal Zeena stands up and goes to retrieve her stomach powders, Mattie clears the table whilst Ethan goes to watch the nightfall.

In the door way he meets Zeena holding the broken pickle dish. Ethan immediately blames it on the cat but Mattie insists it was her fault. In a way the broken pickle dish symbolizes the marriage of Zeena and Ethan. Mattie is partially responsible for the breaking of both the pickle dish and the marriage. She handles them both carelessly and Ethan is also behind both incidents. Ethan decided he was going to ask Mr Hale for an advance on the money he was owed so he could pay for him and Mattie to move to the city. On his way to the Hale’s home he meets Mrs hale.

She stops to talk to him ‘You have been through so much Ethan Frome. ‘ After she walks away he stands frozen wondering how he could do this to such nice people. What would people say, that he used money from the Hale’s to run away with somebody that was not his wife! He realises he can’t do it and walks home. Zeena had asked Jotham to take Mattie to the Station but Ethan insists on driving Mattie. Instead of going straight to the station he takes her to Shadow Pond so they can have a little more time together. They talk about the time when the whole village had a picnic there.

Mattie was pleased Ethan had decided to come and he was pleased she gave him his coffee before anyone else, even though there were loads of people there. Ethan decides to take Mattie coasting, something she had always wanted to do, but never got the chance to as Zeena had her working all the time. Whilst coasting they realise that they are never going to be able to be together, and neither can bear to be away from each other. Ethan doesn’t have the courage and strength to face life without Mattie and carry on as normal, so he chooses to abandon life’s troubles by abandoning life altogether.

Their attempted suicide goes horribly wrong and ends badly. Ethan broke most bones on the right side of his body, and as there was no way to treat broken bones he became a cripple, no longer to work on the farm. Mattie was left paralysed from her neck down unable to move or do anything for herself. From this point on they are then forced to live with each other and Zeena which is in someway worse than being apart as Ethan now has to look after both Zeena and Mattie. Zeena recovered from her illness and is back to full health.

She now looks after Mattie day and night. Ethan ruined his life by marrying Zeena, he only married her because he felt lonely and guilty and he regretted it for the rest of his life. When he finally found love and happiness he could not enjoy all the pleasures life brings with it because of a mistake he made years ago because he was scared of being lonely. As a result of this he and Mattie attempted suicide but failed so now Ethan must live out his years as a cripple with his wife and a handicapped Mattie. Not what one hopes for in life.

I think the way that Edith Wharton uses language and imagery is appropriate and very useful. It helps give you a sense of what Starkfield is really like, the cold winters, the judging residents and the tie between doing the right thing and following your heart. Edith Wharton also shows the sorts of things that are of her own interest in the book like nature. The imagery in her writing also describes nature compared to certain things in the novel, for example, the characters facial expressions or feelings she compares to certain aspects of nature in the world.

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