In Edith Whartons Ethan Frome, the reader easily sees the main character, Ethan Frome, as both admirable and pitiable. There are many extremes to the admirable and pitiable traits of Ethan Frome. While the readers admire Frome, they are also able to pity him at the same time. Ethan Frome can be admired for his heroism. He always comes through to save Mattie Silver, his secret love. In a particular scene in the story, Mattie breaks Zeenas, Ethans wife, pickle dish. The pickle dish was a possession that Zeena treasured and hardly used.
Although it was so important to Zeena, Ethan viewed the situation as something not so important, even though it should have been. He tried to make Mattie feel better. She neednt know anything about it if you keep quiet. Ill get another just like it tomorrow. Where did it come from? Ill go to Shadds Falls for it if I have to! (Wharton, 62) Ethan came to the rescue for Mattie to keep her from getting in trouble. A person who would go to such a length for someone is considered admirable. Another admirable trait that Ethan holds is his sensitivity to natural beauty. He looks at Mattie with so much love and respect.
He is not obsessive about the beauty, but in awe of it. He had always been more sensitive than the people about him to the appeal of natural beauty. (23) He has never been subject to such a beautiful and free spirit after being married to Zeena. After everything he has been through one might think he would take advantage of this beautiful young girl. But he did not. He respected her. He knew that most young men made nothing at all of giving a pretty girl a kiss, and he remembered the night before, when he had put his arm around Mattie and she had not resisted. (67) 2
With the admirable trait of sensitivity to natural beauty, it is easy to say that Ethan has considerable amount of respect for fellow human beings. He still feels the jealousy towards Denis Eady, and the aggravation towards Zeena, but never lets his emotions show through his actions. The reason that Ethan did not openly show his affection to Mattie could be due to the admirable respect that he has for Zeena. In spite of the fact that he married Zeena out of gratitude for her helping take care of his sick parents, and she does nothing but complain about being sick, he still does not go against the sacred wedding vows he took with Zeena.
Ethan does have strong feelings for Mattie but he continues to care for Zeena. An ordinary man would have broken those vows if he was in love with another women who didnt complain and totally depend on him all the time. Ethan made a commendable choice. Ethans respect and faithful personality has come from not being able to leave the isolated town of Starkfield. He was forced to stay behind and take care of his sick parents. Ethan even studied engineering in Worcester, but was not able to further his career.
He, unlike the majority of people in this world, did not think about himself when compelled to stay in Starkfield. He unselfishness is greatly admired. Left alone, after his fathers accident, to carry the burden of farm and mill, he had had no time for convivial loiterings in the village; and when his mother fell ill the loneliness of the house grew more oppressive than that of the fields. (50) In contrast to the admirable quality of Ethan, the reader is able to pity him for a few of the reasons he is admired. Despite the respect he has for Zeena, he is also disappointed with her.
When she came to help Ethan nurse his parents, she was very knowledgeable and healthy. Following their marriage, she completely changed her personality. She complains to Ethan all the time and does nothing but sit 3 around the house and watch Ethan do all the work. When she spoke it was only to complain, and complain of things not in his power to remedy; and to check a tendency to impatient retort he had first formed the habit of not answering her, and finally thinking of other things while she talked. (53) The reader feels compassion towards Ethan for putting up with Zeena as he does.
Ethans compassion and unselfishness has caused him to make his life the imperfection that it is. The reader feels sorry for Ethan because of the unselfish life he chose. He chose to jeopardize his future in order to help others. His life is now living in the house he grew up in, with a nagging wife, and working in the mill where he is very unhappy. In Starkfield, there is not much to offer a person. It is better for an intelligent person to leave and pursue a career. Most of the smart ones get away. (5) Ethan also tends to have an overwhelming pity towards others.
The feelings he has are ironic. Others pity him while he is feeling sorry for others. He is continually self-conscience about the way he treats others. He refuses to betray Zeena because of her illness. When he goes to say something about Zeena he stops himself and thinks of the situation that Zeena is in. ” ‘If it was there for Zeena-‘ Then he had a distinct sight of his wife lying in their bedroom asleep, her mouth slightly open, her false teeth in a tumbler by the bed” (37) His miserable life caused him to choose the decision of ending his life with Mattie.
If he could not live contented then he did not want to live at all. Mattie was going to be sent away, and the only way to stop this was by committing suicide. She was right: this was better than parting. (169) The reader feels empathy for Ethan who chose such a horrible way to make things better for him. In conclusion, Ethan Frome has two extremes of his personality. The reader is able to admire him while they pity him. His character enables some readers to feel admiration for the things that other readers would pity him for.