The Theme Of Obligation In Wharton's Ethan Frome

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Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton is a tragic novella following Ethan Frome as he attempts to express his feelings for the one he truly loves, Mattie Silver. Ethan, however, is already married and feels obligated to care for his wife, Zeena. Over their 7 year marriage, Zeena has fallen perpetually ill and requires more aid than Ethan can give. In order to provide her the help she needs, they hire Mattie Silver, Zeena’s cousin. Zeena’s illness harks back to Ethan’s mother’s illness, from which Zeena was hired to help. Upon Zeena caring for Ethan’s mother, Ethan felt indebted to her and therefore married her. Because of this obligation, Ethan fails to convey his affections to Mattie multiple times. With each failure, however, Ethan’s feelings for …show more content…
Before Zeena came to care for Ethan’s mother, he felt as though he was constantly isolated and alone, as he had to spend all of his time looking after his mother. However, with the arrival of Zeena, it not only provided another human being to interact with, but also gave Ethan the opportunity to go out into the world and back to work. Upon his mother’s death, fearing the feeling of loneliness, Ethan asked Zeena to stay with him and marry him, although he clearly did not love her. “... when he saw her preparing to go away, he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on the farm; and before he knew what he was doing he had asked her to stay there with him. He had often thought since that it would not have happened if his mother had died in spring instead of winter….” (29) Ethan’s marriage imprisons him physically, when he states that he wanted to sell the farm and move once his mother had passed “they would sell the farm and saw mill and try their luck in a larger town.” (29) However, on account of Zeena soon falling ill, he is unable to leave her side, nevermind the town. Ethan’s morality and adherence to his marriage limit his pursuit of happiness, as he can not bring himself to abandon his wife to whom he feels …show more content…
Ethan is infatuated with Mattie, who is attractive, young, and energetic. As opposed to Zeena who is prematurely aged, caustic in temperament, prone to alternating fits of silence and rage, and utterly unattractive. Because of these characteristics, Wharton renders Ethan’s desire to cheat on his wife perfectly understandable. However, Ethan refuses himself to even contemplate committing such a “crime.” After Zeena states she is leaving for the night to find a new doctor, Ethan replies with, in an attempt to stay home with Mattie, “‘I’d take you over myself, only I’ve got to collect the cash for the lumber.’ As soon as the words were spoken he regretted them, not only because they were untrue-there being no prospect of his receiving cash payment…” (*)Ethan has not yet done anything to soil the integrity of his marriage to Zeena, yet on account of his overbearing sense of morality he feels terrible for lying to his wife. Later on that night Wharton provides a prime example of the grip Ethan’s marriage has on him. As Mattie sits down in Zeena’s rocking chair “...her young brown hair detatched itself against the patch-work cushion that habitually framed his wife’s gaut countenance, Ethan had a momentary shock. It was almost as if the other face, the face of the superseded woman, had obliterated that of

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