Ethan Frome By Edith Wharton Summary and Analysis Chapters 6-7

Summary

The next morning, Ethan is feeling quite happy. He has a vision of what life could be like with Mattie. Ethan leaves for work and tells Mattie that he will be home for dinner. During the morning, everything that can possibly go wrong, does. Delayed by problems, Ethan decides to go to Starkfield to get the glue to mend Zeena's red dish after his mid-day meal. He wants to get home and mend the dish before Zeena's return. In the village, Ethan is further delayed when the first shop he tries doesn't have what he needs. He goes to Mrs. Homan's shop, purchases her last bottle of glue, and returns home as fast as possible.

When Ethan arrives home, he shows Mattie the glue and intends to repair the dish but Mattie stops him. Zeena is home and is upstairs in her room. Ethan assures Mattie that he will mend the dish during the night so Zeena will not find out it was broken.

Ethan invites Jotham Powell to supper, but to Ethan's surprise, Jotham declines the invitation. Ethan thought Jotham would be a restraining influence during the meal. Ethan considers Jotham's refusal to be a warning of Zeena's mood. When he returns to the house, Mattie's preparations for supper make it seem as warm and hospitable as the evening before.

Ethan goes to the bedroom to see Zeena. Zeena informs Ethan that she has "complications": She is seriously sick. Ethan feels compassion for her believing that she may have a serious illness. Zeena informs Ethan that Dr. Buck has prescribed that she do no more work around the house and that she has hired a new girl to come and assume the household duties. Ethan is so shocked by the blow to his pocketbook that he does not think of the implications for Mattie. His anger is roused but in the argument that follows he is forced to admit lamely that he was unable to get the money from Andrew Hale. He realizes he has been caught in a lie.

Zeena tells Ethan that the new girl will be arriving the next day and that Mattie will have to leave at once. Ethan leaves the bedroom and finds Mattie downstairs in the kitchen. Without explaining why, Ethan embraces and kisses Mattie, caught up in love for her and hate for Zeena. Ethan breaks the news to Mattie. When he considers what her plight will be when thrown on the mercies of the outside world, Ethan is moved to swear that he will reverse Zeena's decision. He stops speaking in mid-sentence when Zeena enters the kitchen. Zeena sits down at the table, eats, and converses about physical problems among her friends and relatives.

After eating, Zeena complains that the meal has given her indigestion. She goes to get her heartburn medicine and discovers the broken red pickle dish. Zeena returns to the kitchen demanding to know how her dish broke. Mattie tells her the truth and Zeena scolds her. Zeena leaves the room carrying the pickle dish as if it were a dead body. This incident gives Zeena more justification for sending Mattie away.

Analysis

Ethan's happiness after his evening with Mattie is a product of his self-deception. He still has not considered the implications of his love for Mattie. He fantasizes about the evening and still cannot bring himself to verbalize his feelings to Mattie. He sits and watches her do dishes. The imagery Wharton associates with Mattie continues to be that of warmth, life, and the spring and summer. The steam from the hot water has made Mattie's hair especially curly so that it resembles the "traveller's joy," a climbing vine also appropriately known as virgin's bowers.

When Ethan returns to the farmhouse with the glue, Mattie's preparations for supper make the house seem as warm and hospitable as the previous evening. Dramatic irony is evident. Ethan and Mattie momentarily remember the happiness they shared the night before; however, their memories are a prelude to the anxiety and grief that is to come. Zeena's wish to have Mattie out of the house will destroy the false sense of security that Ethan has felt and will break the illusion that he and Mattie will be able to endure Zeena together.

Ethan's confrontation with Zeena occurs in their bedroom; a room ruled by Zeena. It is important to note that in the bedroom Zeena has previously asserted herself over Ethan (such as when she made a derisive comment to him about shaving every morning since Mattie's arrival) and that Ethan thinks best when he is outside in the cold air. The imagery that Wharton associates with the confrontation between Ethan and Zeena is that of darkness. She uses words such as "dark," "obscurity," "dim," "twilight," and "darkness."

Zeena is quite cunning about the way she asserts her dominance over Ethan. She tells him about her "complications," eliciting his compassion for her, then she resolutely informs him that she has hired a girl to do the housework. Ethan (who didn't get the money from Andrew Hale) feels guilty about the lie he'd told Zeena, and Zeena tells him they will be saving money on Mattie's keep.

Zeena has conquered Ethan and he knows it. He attempts to change Zeena's mind by urging her to do the "right thing" (after all, Mattie is her relation). Zeena's authority prevails and she tells him the new girl will be arriving the next day. Ethan realizes his powerlessness and weakness. He finally sees clearly that Zeena controls him and what happens in the house. He sees her as an "alien presence," "an evil energy." Wharton points out Ethan's awareness that he is entrapped in a loveless marriage. She alludes to the notion that Ethan will not violate his marriage vows (the rules of society). Ethan becomes so angry with Zeena that he wants to strike her, but he backs down and leaves the room. Ethan knows that Zeena has complete control over him.

When Ethan goes downstairs to eat dinner and reveal to Mattie that there is trouble, Wharton again makes use of imagery. Mattie's fear causes her eyelashes to beat against Ethan's cheek "like netted butterflies." Ethan speaks to Mattie "as if he saw her drowning in a dream." Their conversation has the effect of "a torch of warning" in a "black landscape." Ethan feels as intoxicated as when kissing Mattie, but at the same time he is "dying of thirst for her lips." These images used by Wharton are suggestive of captivity and death. The imagery is foreboding and foreshadows the tragedy that befalls Ethan and Mattie.

As Ethan is in the midst of his manly defense of Mattie, Zeena enters the kitchen. Her entrance causes Ethan to stop speaking in mid-sentence: Zeena's dominance over Ethan is complete. Even after demonstrating his love for Mattie, he can not defend her in front of Zeena. Zeena sits at the table triumphant, smiling and flaunting her power over Mattie and Ethan. When she leaves the room to get her stomach medicine, Mattie and Ethan look at each other and "the warm still kitchen looked as peaceful as the night before." Ironically, the moment is the calm before the storm.

Zeena finds the broken pickle dish and is visibly angered. Ethan once again becomes powerless when Zeena realizes he lied about the dish to protect Mattie. Ethan is unable to challenge Zeena, even to stand up for Mattie. Wharton foreshadows the smash-up as she describes Zeena carrying the pieces of broken pickle dish "as if she carried a dead body." Ironically, Zeena's concern will soon have to be for the broken bodies of Ethan and Mattie.

Glossary

milden to make or become mild

sledge a sled or sleigh for carrying loads over ice, snow, etc.

deigned condescended to do something thought to be slightly beneath one's dignity

aver to declare to be true; state positively; affirm

consecrated caused to be revered or honored

felicitous used or expressed in a way suitable to the occasion; aptly chosen; appropriate; apt

extry extra

foist to get (a thing) accepted, sold, etc. by fraud, deception, etc.; palm off

grudged felt a strong, continued sense of hostility or ill will against someone over a real or fancied grievance

afore before

inexorable that cannot be moved or influenced by persuasion or entreaty; unrelenting

antipathy strong or deep-rooted dislike; aversion

smote defeated, punished, destroyed, or killed

compunction a sharp feeling of uneasiness brought on by a sense of guilt; remorse

ingratiatingly so as to make acceptable; especially, so as to bring (oneself) into another's favor or good graces by conscious effort

shan't meddle won't interfere

rejoined joined together again; reunited

evocation an evoking, or calling forth

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