Contrast of Zeena and Mattie in "Ethan Frome"

Essay by TalonStrikerHigh School, 11th gradeA, September 2005

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Some decisions have an everlasting effect on one's life. Ethan Frome, the protagonist in Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, is tormented by his passionate love for Mattie Silver, but is morally shackled to Zeena by the sacred bonds of marriage. After years of harsh life with his wife in the dreary town of Starkefield, Ethan comes to believe that his greatest chance at a happy life is with Mattie Silver, a cousin of Zeena, who has come to live with him. However, in the end Mattie's other side, one which is extraordinarily similar to Zeena's attitude, comes to light, after a thwarted suicide attempt. In Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton makes an ironic comment on the choices present in an impoverished world by presenting contrasting images to describe Zeena Frome and Mattie Silver, yet also presenting details which make them seem alike.

Wharton suggests that Mattie's cheerful attitude, her spirited activity, and her ability to inspire confidence in Ethan, prompts him to believe that Mattie could bring him bliss.

One of the reasons why Ethan thinks that Mattie could turn his life around was because she usually overflowed with cheerfulness and energy. Ethan is often fascinated by "her gaiety [, which to him,] was a plain proof of indifference." Her cheerful image contrasts sharply with that of Zeena who is selfish and melancholy, and brings some cheer into his otherwise dull life. Mattie again exhibits her ability to spread warmth while she learns her household duties. When Ethan sees her performing her household duties awkwardly, he bursts out laughing, and, to his surprise, Mattie also "burst[s] out laughing and this made them better friends." This incident baffles Ethan who assumed that a woman would blush with embarrassment instead of laughing it away and charms him so that the idea comes to...