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Ethan Frome | Quotes

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1.

That man touch a hundred? He looks as if he was dead and in hell now!


Narrator, Prologue

Ethan has spent his entire life suffering because he is unwilling (or unable) to deal with the consequences of his actions. Rather than face a difficult situation, he remains passive and indecisive. His years of emotional suffering are obvious even to strangers.

2.

Guess he's been in Starkfield too many winters. Most of the smart ones get away.


Harmon Gow, Prologue

Harmon Gow's assessment of Ethan's struggles highlights the isolation of life in Starkfield, where silence permeates the Frome house, even outside of winter. The extreme winters affect everyone's emotions, including the narrator's, so he understands the impact of having never escaped the small town.

3.

She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling.


Narrator, Chapter 1

As Ethan walks Mattie home from the town hall dance, he revels in their easy conversation and shared interest. Unlike Zeena, Mattie is interested in what Ethan has to say, breaking the silence that surrounds his life. He truly believes they are soul mates.

4.

I told you I ain't the kind to be afraid.


Mattie, Chapter 2

Early in the novella Mattie challenges the social expectations of a demure woman. She is bold and brave, happy to walk home alone or go sledding at midnight because she isn't afraid. This bravery foreshadows and contrasts with her injury at the end of the novella and calls into question her timid responses to Ethan's romantic advances.

5.

All I know is ... I can't go on the way I am much longer.


Zeena, Chapter 3

Zeena suspects Ethan and Mattie of having an affair. Because she isn't a sympathetic character, little time is spent exploring her emotional state. Comments like this, however, suggest that Zeena feels betrayed and hurt by Ethan's actions. Something must change, and Zeena, unlike Ethan, takes decisive action to protect her future.

6.

He had often thought since that it would not have happened if his mother had died in spring instead of winter.


Narrator, Chapter 4

This comment highlights the emotional and physical isolation of Starkfield winters. The cold and silence feel like a prison, from which Ethan was eager to seek any release. When Zeena arrived, he quickly married her so as not to spend another winter alone. He might have had more hope for his future if his mother had died at a different time of year.

7.

I know well enough what they say of my having kep' her here as long as I have.


Zeena, Chapter 7

This sentence gives readers insight into Zeena's cruel treatment of Mattie. Her statement suggests she either knows about Ethan and Mattie's feelings for each other and wants to end it or that she fears townsfolk will find her foolish for allowing an inept "nurse" to care for her for so long. Either way Zeena feels justified in her cruel treatment of Mattie.

8.

She slipped from him and drew back a step or two, pale and troubled.


Narrator, Chapter 7

After Ethan boldly kisses Mattie in the kitchen, she backs away from him, hinting that she didn't actually wish for their relationship to become romantic. This gesture casts doubt on Mattie's motivation for flirting with Ethan and for suggesting the final coast at the end of the novella.

9.

It seemed to Ethan that his heart was bound with cords which an unseen hand was tightening with every tick of the clock.


Narrator, Chapter 9

Ethan's inability to make a direct decision leaves him constantly hanging in the balance. He waits for life to happen to him rather than taking control of his own future. He is weak and ineffectual to some extent, blaming an "unseen" hand rather than his own indecision for shortening his time with Mattie.

10.

Her hair was as [gray] as her companion's, her face as bloodless and shriveled.


Narrator, Epilogue

This haunting image of Mattie at the end of the novella shows how the tragic events have affected her life. She is indistinguishable from Zeena, shriveling into a whining crone, sucked dry of the beauty and vitality that had made her interesting. Unlike at other times she wears no red—even her face is bloodless.

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