Ethan Frome | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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Ethan Frome | Epilogue | Summary



The narration returns to present day, with the narrator entering Ethan Frome's house on the night of the snowstorm. He hears a "querulous drone" or whining, inside the house, which ceases when he and Ethan enter the kitchen. Ethan takes him into the living room and introduces his wife, Zeena, and Mattie Silver, her cousin, whom they have cared for since she became disabled in an accident. The narrator immediately realizes it had been Mattie whining terribly when they first entered the house.

In his discussions with Mrs. Hale later, Mrs. Hale laments Ethan Frome's bad fortune. She says she visited the Frome house regularly after the accident. Zeena made a miraculous recovery and has been caring for Ethan and Mattie ever since. Mattie suffered terribly from her injuries, and Mrs. Hale concludes it's a pity Mattie didn't die. If she had, Mrs. Hale thinks, Ethan might have lived: "I don't see's there's much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and Fromes down in the graveyard," she says.


Ethan's wish to keep Mattie with him forever is tragically granted. Mattie will be with Ethan forever, not by choice but by injury. Ethan's sorrowful thought in Chapter 9 that their walk through the woods was the last time they would walk together takes on new meaning. It was the last time they would walk together because Mattie will never walk again. Ethan had hoped to escape the "living death" of his marriage to Zeena by embracing true death with Mattie. His fate unfortunately leads to his dragging Mattie into his living death forever.

The accident reverses the characters of Zeena and Mattie. Before the accident Mattie was a picture of youth, beauty, and vitality; Zeena, on the other hand, was the embodiment of death—sickly and miserable. After the accident, however, Zeena experiences a recovery of symptoms and becomes stronger and healthier than before. Mattie, meanwhile, spirals into depression and illness, sinking so far into her misery that by the end of the novella she and Zeena are indistinguishable from each other. Due to Ethan's actions he, Mattie, and Zeena are trapped on the dilapidated farm by their poverty, disabilities, and the relentless weather before inevitably joining Ethan's ancestors in the graveyard.

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