As I went through my portfolio from high school, I came across a paper I wrote on Ethan Frome entitled “Ethan Frome: Passion vs. Responsibility.” I haven’t thought about the story in years and yet, right now, at this moment I see Ethan as man caught between his honor and his desire. If I could envision a better world, it would have more men like Ethan. For however tragic his story may be, you can’t help, but to respect him… That being said the the thesis from paper was the following:
Ethan Frome is a man who is torn by two opposing forces of equal magnitude. His sense of responsibility to his chronically ill wife in conjunction with a love that can never be leaves Frome in a state worse than death.
Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome takes place in Starfield, Massachusetts. In a small town, typical of the time period, morality is at the forefront of the community. You can’t hide behind the masses when there are none. Ethan Frome’s wife is Zeena. Frome’s intentions for marrying Zeena were of the highest of honor. Zeena was extremely ill and Frome wished to take care of her. He wanted to be there for her. One might call this the wrong reason for marriage, but it’d be difficult to condemn Ethan. Ethan’s marriage centered around tending to his failing farm and his ill wife. Though he lived in misery, he pushed forward. With all adversity, he fulfilled his duties to his wife. The incredible part of Frome’s story lies with his love… Not for Zeena, but for her cousin, Mattie Silver. Frome lived in the cold, but when one says that one has to clarify. Yes, the winter in Massachusetts can be difficult, but that cold is no comparison to the cold of his marriage. Mattie was Frome’s warmth. Mattie breathed life into Frome. Ethan loved Mattie. What would you do in his position? How would you fair with this kind of conflict? Frome is at once dead and alive. Bound to his marital vows, yet enlivened by the love and passion he desperately desires. Most men today wouldn’t have to think of it more than once to runaway for a chance at love.
I wrote myself:
“In the present day, marriage is something that has truly lost its value. People marry and separate as if it were a game. Marriage is centered much less on love and religion and much more on economic gain and social leverage. ”
This is what clicked for me in re-reading my paper, in rethinking Ethan Frome. How can man strive to do right only to be dealt the highest of tragedies? What is the reason for punishing unjustly, whether you look at it from a religious perspective or from an agnostic perspective? Frome enters into a suicide pack with Mattie, but it’s his responsibility for Zeena that compels him to avoid a fatal collision. This is the tragic ending… Frome and Mattie survive, but both are injured. The life seems to disappear from Mattie and seemingly gets transfered to Zeena. Zeena must now look after both Mattie and Ethan.
It’s a truly tragic and dark tale. There are many different ways to interpret Ethan Frome and likewise people can take varied lessons from the story. A general takeaway that I note now is that the line between passion and responsibility is a very fine one. A life lead strictly focused on one or the other should be looked at with suspicion, but even the failure to balance the two can have devastating effects. Life isn’t worth living unless you know who you want to be and what you value… and if you don’t bind yourself to that in every sense, then you don’t know who you are, but even those who do still face their challenges. One can only hope not to have to suffer in the way Frome did and continues too. Such a tragic end, for such noble intents.
… back to work.