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Ethan Frome | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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Ethan Frome | Chapter 6 | Summary



The next morning Ethan feels joyous. He can't explain why he's so happy, but the previous night gives him a clear vision of what living life with Mattie would be like. Jotham Powell breakfasts with the couple so they are unable to speak openly, but not even that dampens Ethan's mood. After breakfast Ethan plans to rush into town to buy glue to fix the pickle dish before Zeena returns. He gets a later start than he had hoped because one of the horses slips on the ice and cuts its knee. When the injury is bandaged, Ethan rushes to the Eady general store although he's loath to give Denis Eady any business. Denis is hanging out in the storefront with his friends and takes his time in the storeroom "searching" for the glue. He comes out some time later to say he can't find it and Ethan will have to come back later. Instead, Ethan travels farther downtown to the widow Homan's shop. She is old and takes her time searching through piles of wares, but she produces one solitary bottle of glue: "I hope Zeena ain't broken anything she sets store by," the widow calls out as Ethan rushes back to his sled.

The barn is empty when Ethan returns, so he rejoices in having beaten Zeena back home. He rushes into the kitchen to patch up the pickle dish but Mattie stops him: "Oh, Ethan—Zeena's come," she whispers. Ethan promises to sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to fix the pickle dish. Unsure of what to expect from Zeena at the dinner table that night, Ethan tries to persuade Jotham Powell to stay for dinner. Jotham refuses, which Ethan takes as an omen.


Ethan remains passive the next morning, even though he knows his wife will return later that day. Although he bitterly resents not having kissed Mattie the night before, he is inexplicably joyous in the morning. His joy prevents him from acting any further on his feelings, and he sits in "exaggerated indifference," not wanting his behavior to draw attention from Jotham Powell.

Ethan spends the day racing around town frantically trying to repair the broken pickle dish before Zeena discovers it. As usual outside forces seem to conspire against Ethan, providing complication after complication. The weather, always a strong symbolic force in the story, warmed during Ethan and Mattie's night together. Symbolically a sign of spring, or new life, around the corner, the warmth caused ice to form and the horse is injured. It is interesting to note Ethan views Denis Eady as his main competition for Mattie's heart, and he treats Eady with the disdain of a sworn enemy. However, with the exception of Denis's offer of a ride home after the dance, he has made no advances toward Mattie and is not "competing" with Ethan for her affections. Passive Ethan blames Denis, yet it is Ethan's own reluctance and situation that holds him back from happiness.

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