Ethan Frome

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Ethan Frome Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The following day at breakfast Ethan thinks happily of the evening he shared with Mattie. He imagines that Mattie knew why he didn't press her for signs of affection and tells himself he is glad that nothing between them has changed.
Ethan justifies his cowardly inaction on the grounds that he doesn't want to change anything for the worse. It's clear that Ethan's lack of success is in large part his own fault.
Themes
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Ethan tells Mattie he will be back from the mill in time for dinner. The weather has gotten warmer and a wet snow has fallen and made the roads icy. Ethan plans to drive another load of logs to town and buy some glue to fix the pickle-dish while sending Jotham to fetch Zeena at the train station. However, one of the horses slips on the ice and cuts its knee, and the sleety rain makes loading the logs difficult. Ethan is unable to make it to the village and is late for dinner.
Outside forces do also seem to conspire against Ethan. While the thaw, which occurs simultaneously with Zeena's absence, at first seems to signal an improvement over the frigid cold of previous chapters, the sleet interferes with Ethan's search for glue.
Themes
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
After dinner, Ethan hurries to the village with the logs, then to Michael Eady's store for the glue. Denis Eady is unable to locate any glue, so Ethan goes to Mrs. Homan's store, where after some delay a bottle of glue is found. Ethan drives home in the rain, hoping to beat Zeena and Jotham back to the farm. When he sees that the sorrel horse is not in the barn he believes he and Mattie are alone.
More obstacles hinder Ethan's efforts to prevent Zeena from finding out about him and Mattie. Mattie, for her part, is unable to leave the house and must rely on Ethan to save her from Zeena's wrath.
Themes
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Work, Industry and Progress Theme Icon
However, when Ethan bursts into the kitchen Mattie tells him Zeena has returned and has gone upstairs without saying a word. Ethan tells Mattie he will fix the pickle-dish later than night after Zeena has gone to bed.
Zeena's silence is ominous. It makes Ethan's optimism that he'll get a chance to fix the pickle-dish seem naïve, and his efforts to protect Mattie seem doomed to failure.
Themes
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
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When Jotham drives up with the sorrel horse, which he has borrowed to carry some goods home to his wife, Ethan tries to persuade him to stay for supper, knowing Zeena will be less likely to make a scene if Jotham is present. Jotham, who normally would not turn down a free meal, refuses politely, and Ethan wonders what passed between him and Zeena on the drive home. When he re-enters the kitchen Mattie has set the table and it looks as welcoming as the night before.
Jotham's refusal to stay for dinner is a final indication that something is terribly wrong. Ethan and Mattie's guilt is noticeable as they wait for Zeena to come down to dinner. Yet rather than act, they continue to pretend that nothing has happened, as if they have no choice but to wait for the storm that is brewing, and that will erupt in the next chapter.
Themes
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon