Morals and ethics serve as a guiding compass towards making the right decision in life. People use them to instill respect and improve relationships. Most importantly, moral values reflect an individual’s character. Morals can sometimes, however, guide someone down the wrong path, making his life a living nightmare. One may act morally towards others, but his selflessness can tragically lead to his downfall. Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome exemplifies an auspicious life ruined because of high morals. In the novel, Ethan Frome resides in a town wellfittingly named Starkfield.
No matter what Ethan does, he cannot find a way out of Starkfield. He made numerous attempts to escape his destined life, but failed every time. Eventually, Ethan spends the remainder of his life paralyzed after a suicide attempt, living with someone he ends up hating because of his moral compass. Therefore, Ethan Frome’s fate is unfortunate because he cannot control his impulses with moral constraints. The syllogism related to Ethan Frome states that a person’s fate is unfortunate when he cannot control his impulses. In the novel, Ethan cannot control his impulses with moral constraints, so as a result, his fate is unfortunate.
Another literary work, Oedipus Rex, also highlights this syllogism. This Athenian tragedy written by Sophocles has a protagonist that suffers from an unfortunate fate. An oracle told Oedipus’ parents “that whatever child was born to Laius and me (Jocasta) would cause Laius’s death” (45). To avert this tragedy, Oedipus’s parents then took him to die in the mountains so he could not possibly kill Laius. Oedipus eventually made his way back to his parents’ kingdom after the shepherds saw him and took him to Polybus. Oedipus had no control at this point because he was too young.
Eventually he returned to Thebes where he killed his biological father along the way and married his biological mother. He had no control over his fate throughout the tragedy because of he did not know his biological parents. Oedipus did not want to kill his father, whom he originally thought was Polybus. The prophecy came true after fate allowed Oedipus to kill Laius because of a road rage incident. After he returns to his parents’ kingdom, he marries Jocasta. He had no clue who his biological parents were. He punishes himself in the end after he discovers what he had done.
Because of his uncontrollable impulses, fate got the best of Oedipus and his parents, just like how fate got the best of Ethan. Morals first dictated Ethan’s decision-making when he dropped out of college to take care of his ill parents. As a young adult, Ethan’s career looked promising. He dreamed of moving into the city to work as an engineer. Ethan attended a community college in Worcester, Massachusetts and spent time working as an engineer in Florida. However, his dream of settling in a metropolitan area as an engineer abruptly shattered after learning about the news of his father’s passing and his mother’s illness.
Ethan had to come home to take care of his mother as a result because that was his duty as a son. Because of his high morality, this was an impulse that Ethan could not control. He consequently returned to Starkfield, a town he wanted to flee from. Ethan went home to take care of his mom until she passed away because he loves his mom. Because he had to take care of his mother, Ethan ended up feeling lonely. His mother’s illness prompted Ethan to marry Zeena. Unfortunately for Ethan, his wife, described by Wharton as sickly, made his life more stressful since he took care of her after his mother’s death.
A moral person must take care of the sick. Ethan did exactly that. When the narrator held a conversation with Harmon about Ethan, Harmon told the narrator that “Somebody had to stay and care for the folks. There warn’t ever anybody but Ethan. Fust his father —then his mother—then his wife” (13). Harmon reiterates the point that Starkfield serves as a trap to Ethan. After taking care of his parents, Ethan was hoping for a wife that cheered him up but instead got one that represented Starkfield. He ends up marrying his mom’s nurse, Zeena. After Zeena fell ill, it was his duty as a husband to take care of Zeena.
In a similar manner, Ethan Frome’s failed suicide attempt epitomizes suffering from an unmanageable fate. Ethan decided to commit suicide to stay with Mattie because at the moment, he loved her the most. Zeena kicked Mattie out of the house but Mattie was poor to live alone. Because of that, Ethan decided to be with Mattie partially because of morals as well as because of his feelings for her. When Zeena wanted to kick Mattie out in an untoward manner, Ethan fulminates at his wife by saying, “you can’t put her out of the house like a thief-a poor girl without friends or money.
She’s done her best for you and she’s got no place to go to” (93). Ethan knows that kicking her out is morally wrong because she does not have a true place to stay. In this case, Ethan selflessly wants the best for both Mattie and Zeena. He could not control his impulses by refusing to say no to Mattie so he committed suicide. Ethan preferred dying with Mattie so he could not return to Starkfield at that instant. Unfortunately for Ethan, he and Mattie did not die from the suicide attempt. They then returned to Ethan’s residence where Zeena, now fully recovered, cares for them.
The story’s flashback ends with Wharton describing how Mattie is now acting as a thorn to Ethan’s side rather than Zeena. Ethan attempted to commit suicide because he loved Mattie but in a turn of events, he now is stuck with her. Mattie’s personality changed after the ‘smashup’. Rather than the free spirited personality Ethan desired, he received a whining, permanent invalid. While some may agree that Ethan does not deserve his fate, others argue that Ethan Frome is a loser, meaning that he could control his impulses but ended up making questionable decisions.
They insist that Ethan deserves his fate because of the opposing syllogism, stating that one deserves his fate when he chooses impulses rather than morals. Ethan chooses to follow his impulses rather than his morals. As a result, Ethan deserves his fate. One believer of the opposing syllogism, fellow CHS student Matthew Weder, argues that Ethan deserves his fate because of his apparent fear for Zeena. He relates Ethan’s case of determinism to those at the Special Olympics. He believes the disabled population can decide to be happy or sad about their current situation.
Despite the amount of free will offered, the decision to be either happy or sad is amoral. They can choose whether to live a happy life or a miserable life. The decision does not reflect others as in Ethan’s case. Weder claims that “throughout Ethan Frome, Ethan creates a cage made of fear. The most prominent material of his cage is the fear of confronting Zeena. ” It may be true that Ethan decided to marry Zeena out of his impulses rather than his morals, but after the marriage, Ethan had full responsibility for Zeena. He mainly provided for her when she did not feel well.
The relationship had no intimate connection whatsoever, hence the lack of communication between the two. Ethan had nothing in common with Zeena so it was naturally difficult to communicate in the first place. He wanted to communicate with Zeena on a few occasions with one being when Ethan arranged a plan to tell her that “as soon as he could straighten out the difficulties resulting from Mrs. Frome’s long illness, they would sell the farm and sawmill and try their luch in a large town” (59). He then realizes his moral obligations as a husband so he did not suggest that to her.
Even though he had no true desire to stay with Zeena, his morals prevented him from leaving her. Weder also presented another viewpoint of the opposing syllogism by stating that “if Ethan had not married her, he would have been free to leave the farm, go to college, and make a successful life for himself. Instead, he trapped himself in a cage”. As a result of Ethan’s decision to marry Zeena, he became a loser. However, Zeena’s open “sickliness” only developed because she had no one to take care of anymore. Zeena was completely fine when she had to take care of Ethan’s mother.
From the time of his mother’s death to his “smash-up” with Mattie, Zeena had no one to take care of. She felt out of place when she does not do what she loves best. Ethan married Zeena because he opted for a smart wife. Wharton states, “when she came to take care of his mother she had seemed to Ethan like the very genius of health, but he soon saw that her skill as a nurse had been acquired by the absorbed observation of her own symptoms” (59). Ethan viewed her as solicitous in her nursing skills so she married her.
This meant that Ethan had no idea Zeena had a certain illness until after the marriage. Afterwards, Ethan became stuck with his wife and even had to take care of her. All in all, Ethan Frome is a perfect example of misfortune as he epitomizes a promising life turning abysmal due to multiple circumstances that he cannot control. He suffers from an unfortunate fate because of moral constraints and uncontrollable forces. Because of moral constraints, Ethan had to put his dream career to a halt and take care of his parents in Starkfield.
Ethan then went on to marry Zeena who he had to take care of because of his moral compass and uncontrollable forces. Then finally, he remained in Starkfield after the suicide attempt. His ultimate fate proves the trap Starkfield proves to be for Ethan, who symbolizes the strictest of moralists. Although some may call him a loser, Ethan had little to no control over his situation. The cards he had been dealt with were limited. Additionally, he may have avoided the issues easily if he did not believe in morals.
Becoming immoral makes life in general much easier. Morals can restrict an individual from a simple, promising life. They need to become selfless and act considerate towards others. Whether by taking care of the sick or making sure to satisfy everyone at the expense of oneself, living with a moral code can cause people to act different ways than others. It largely depends on how much of a moralist a person is. For some people, unfortunately, strictly living by a moral code can act as a harmful agent to someone’s life.