Ethan Frome Essay

647 words - 3 pages

Throughout the novel, Ethan Frome’s sense of responsibility lives strong enough in him to forget about his own happiness with Mattie, to stay with his wife Zeena, and to take care of the town when all of the others have passed away. In Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Ethan’s sense of responsibility to his wife and land prevents him from achieving true happiness and causes his ultimate emotional death.
Ethan Frome has a strong enough sense of responsibility to keep himself from achieving true happiness with his love Mattie. While Ethan and Mattie sit in the sled preparing to ram head first into the tree, he sees Zeena’s face appear before him, and this reminds him that he still needs to care for her. Sitting on the sled with his love, Ethan awaits his death, “But suddenly his wife’s face, with twisted monstrous lineaments, thrust itself between him and his goal…” (Wharton 122). This clearly demonstrates that he cannot leave his sick and dying wife to survive on her own. Another author agrees with the theme that Ethan’s obligation of duty shows in his downfall by saying, “As a theme, the vanity of self-sacrifice is merged repeatedly with the primary theme of the limits of individual responsibility” (Howe 131). This clearly states that Ethan must sacrifice his love for Mattie because he needs to take care of his sick wife Zeena. He must remain in his stagnant life to care for Zeena.
Ethan Frome also has a sense of duty to stay with his current wife Zeena. Ethan wishes to leave Zeena immediately and to run away with his true love Mattie, but he knows that Zeena could not possibly support herself on her own. Edith Wharton shows this by writing, “…that Ethan drew a meager living from his land, and his wife, even if she were in better health than she imagined, could never carry such a burden alone” (Wharton 96). This distinctly explains that Ethan’s sense of duty conquers...

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