Codependency in Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome
"Dependent personality disorder."(Morris) To people who suffer from this disorder, making a decision is virtually impossible. It is only by getting assistance from others that they can make even the simplest of choices. When some of these people come together, they rely on each other to help them with decision-making. Unfortunately, the codependency created by this situation frequently makes it impossible for these people to separate. In fact, they often become so interdependent that subconsciously they increasingly act in ways that will maintain the status quo. In Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome, the three major characters are so dependent on each other that no matter what they try, they remain stuck together. To underscore this point, Edith Wharton uses both language and diction to illustrate each of the three major characters' basic inability to make their decisions and their resultant codependence on each other.
Ethan Frome, the most predominant character, exhibits his codependence throughout the story and consistently requires other people to either make or help him with decisions that affect his life. At one point, Ethan describes his relationship with his wife saying, "She's always had her way"(61). In addition, Wharton describes Ethan's actions as follows: "Lowered head he went up in his wife's wake"(28). Ethan's own words show his dependence on Zeena and on his reliance on her to make all the decisions in the house. His constant pattern of yielding to her is a telltale sign of his inability to run his life. Another example of Ethan's dependence is how he only fights Zeena over one issue, Mattie. However, in this instance Ethan would probably have lost the fight had it not been for the accident. Although Ethan is willing to fight with Zeena over this one issue, the rest of his actions demonstrate his weakness and acceptance of Zeena's control. Ethan had not wanted to go to bed with Zeena but once Zeena began to pressure him, he backed down and followed her to bed like a hurt child. Thus, Ethan yields to his problem and entraps himself to a life of misery. He illustrates his own dependence by his consistent submission to Zeena and by his inability to take control of events that are occurring in his life.
Zeena Frome, the second of the three important characters, is often unable to take direct action without receiving confirmation from other characters. In one conversation with Ethan, Zeena says "He wanted I should speak to you about a girl"(19) and then later, Wharton adds to this feeling of dependence in the description of Zeena after she returns from the doctor, "She wanted sympathy not consolation"(55). Zeena is trying to get support from Ethan to get a replacement for Mattie. However, when she is unable to get his support, Mattie remains in the house until Zeena finally gets her needed backing from a...