In Edith Wharton's book, Ethan Frome, the author descriptively portrayed the inner conflict between the pursuit of pleasure and the burden of obligation as Ethan's life unfolded to the reader. As a creative device, she used the bleak, and barren New England countryside to reflect Ethan's frame of mind. The burden of obligation shrouded Ethan's life. He felt obligated to his parents, their farm, his wife Zeena, and her cousin Mattie. Overcome by his enormous sense of responsibility for others, Ethan never had the time for the pursuit of his own pleasures. A life without pleasure, Ethan Frome was characterized by painful silence and despair. The monotonous routine of life's daily responsibilities held Ethan captive to his farm, and unproductive sawmill.
Abandoned by the death of both of his parents, he found comfort in the presence of his cousin Zenobia Pierce. Earlier that year she had come to help him by taking care of his dying mother.
Feeling a sense of obligation to Zeena, he married her, even though he did not truly love her.
Driven by a perverted need for attention, Zeena became an "invalid," confined to her bed and no longer capable of managing the household. In desperate need of assistance, Zeena employed the aid of her cousin Mattie Silver. Mattie came to the Frome's household for free. She agreed to do the housework in exchange for her room and board.
Although untalented in the kitchen, Mattie's young and vivacious spirit brought happiness to the house. Finding Mattie's presence refreshing compared to the bleak, dismal surroundings of the farm, Ethan took a great interest in her. He found great joy in her company. Since she lacked skill and experience, he would often help her by doing her chores.
The limited time they spent together created a strong emotional bond between Ethan and Mattie. When Zeena decided that she no longer needed Mattie, the thought of life without Mattie left Ethan heartbroken.
Instead of separation, Ethan and Mattie decided to commit suicide together. Ethan could not carry out the plan because he still felt a great sense of responsibility and obligation for his wife Zeena.
Instead of dying together, Ethan and Mattie were crippled in the accident. In a twisted turn of fate, the harsh reality of separation the two lovers fought desperately to escape became their lifelong sentence.
Although together physically, Ethan and Mattie's love for each other eventually faded away forever. Suddenly and unpredictably, Zeena recovered from her trance. The roles were switched. Zeena, formerly the patient, became the caretaker of the two lovers.
The wise person takes time to live, laugh, learn, and love, as well as to worship, work, and weep. God emphasizes the importance of the philosophy of moderation Ecclesiastes. It says that there is a time and a season for everything under Heaven.
God outlines a healthy, and happy life as a life led in moderation. Unfortunately Ethan never had God's plan to follow. As a result, he led an unhappy, unfulfilled life burdened by too much guilt and obligation.