English 12, 5th
September 13, 2013
Passion and responsibility in Edith Warton's Ethan Frome
Set in 1881 Starkfield, Massachusetts, Edith Warton's Ethan Frome reveals a recurring theme found in literature: "the classic war between a passion and responsibility." In the novel, published in 1911, protagonist Ethan Frome confronts his two private passions, his desire to become an engineer that conflicts with his moral responsibility to his family and his passion for Mattie Silver that conflicts with his obligations to his sickly wife, Zenobia Frome. Ethan, being a man of responsibility, places the needs and wants of his family, before his own, which causes him to experience only "[s]ickness and trouble" and "that's what [he's] had his place full up with, ever since the very first helping" (12). The reader sympathizes with Ethan's struggles as he abandons his studies at Worcester, considers running away with Mattie, and even attempts suicide with Mattie.
When Ethan is confronted with family obligations, his desire to become an engineer ceases and, as a result, he leaves Worcester. Later in his, life he starts to realize that leaving Worcester also meant that he would forget about all of the things he learned. Because Ethan was unable to finish his education as Worcester, he looks at the book that the speaker left him and knows that would be "things in that book that [he] didn't know the first word about" (14). Though Ethan had to leave Worcester prematurely, he thinks fondly of his university days and longs to recreate them. Ethan's "best parlour" (112) that he uses as a sanctuary is modeled after a professor he had at Worcester. His professor, a minister, fed Ethan's curiosity by lending him books. However, Ethan's sense of responsibility made him give up the knowledge...