Ethan Frome

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Zeena's vivacious 21-year-old cousin, who comes to live with the Fromes when her parents die and leave her penniless. With no education or job skills, Mattie is forced to rely on the charity of her relatives, performing menial work in return for room and board. Her only hope of escape lies in attracting a suitor who will marry her and remove her from the Frome household, so her infatuation with Ethan is reckless, endangering her employment and her future. Mattie's red scarf and red ribbon symbolize her passionate nature.

Mattie Silver Quotes in Ethan Frome

The Ethan Frome quotes below are all either spoken by Mattie Silver or refer to Mattie Silver. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Ethan Frome published in 2005.
Chapter 3 Quotes
But when Zenobia's doctor recommended her looking about for some one to help her with the house-work the clan instantly saw the chance of exacting a compensation from Mattie.
Related Characters: Zenobia (Zeena) Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

After Mattie’s father’s business goes up in smoke, her family members who had invested in the venture lose their money as well. The family therefore harbors resentment towards Mattie as a representative of her father’s failures, and they seek mild revenge by sending her to perform housework for Zeena. As an educated young girl, Mattie would not have experience doing housework, and her previous attempts to work retail jobs led to a collapse of her health. In such a way, the family’s attempt to “exact a compensation” from Mattie is somewhat insidious, and speaks of larger resentments that individual members of the “clan” have for others. Instead of revealing a communal, kind-hearted nature, Zeena’s employment of Mattie speaks to the deeply individualistic and cutthroat nature of this family. Competitive and resentful, the family does not care for her in material terms, and deliberately drafts her into a job that will surely destroy her faltering health.

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Chapter 4 Quotes
She stood just as Zeena had stood, a lifted lamp in her hand, against the black background of the kitchen. She held the light at the same level, and it drew out with the same distinctness her slim young throat and the brown wrist no bigger than a child's. Then, striking upward, it threw a lustrous fleck on her lips, edged her eyes with velvet shade, and laid a milky whiteness above the black curve of her brows.
Related Characters: Zenobia (Zeena) Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mattie opens the door of the farmhouse to Ethan, he is struck initially by the similarity of her pose to Zeena’s the previous evening. However, Ethan immediately recognizes the clear physical differences between Mattie and Zeena. While Zeena is wrinkled and tired—similar to the barren landscape around them—Ethan notices Mattie’s youth in her smooth skin and warm coloring. Yet with her mimicry of Zeena’s pose, Ethan is able to think of Mattie in the position of his wife, despite the women’s differences in appearance. Ethan’s blending of the two women speaks to his marital fantasies of having a youthful, warm wife who is the polar opposite to Zeena. However, the echoed pose also suggests that Ethan would find the same dissatisfaction and marital unhappiness with any woman (including Mattie) as with Zeena. The pose suggests a dependence upon the status of being married, rather than upon individual consciousness. As such, the women become interchangeable in Ethan’s mind when he begins to think of them as wives or potential wives.

Completely reassured, she shone on him through tear-hung lashes, and his soul swelled with pride as he saw how his tone had subdued her. She did not even ask what he had done. Except when he was steering a big log down the mountain to his mill he had never known such a thrilling sense of mastery.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Related Symbols: The Red Glass Pickle-dish
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mattie breaks the red pickle dish, symbolizing their mutual and forbidden love for each other (as the pickle dish was Zeena's favorite wedding present), it represents the danger of acting on their passion. However, when Ethan cleans it up and puts it back together—as though it never happened—the two believe that they have solved their problem, even though it is merely a temporary solution. In this passage, both Ethan and Mattie are willing to put their faith in Ethan with his masculine authority that declares that the problem has been solved, even though he has merely swept it under the rug (almost literally). Mattie cedes to Ethan, and he views her as “subdued,” speaking to the subservient position of women in marital relations. Ethan’s sense of control over Mattie is further emphasized by his invigorating memory of steering a log down the mountain—and image that will recur with disastrous results later in the text.

Chapter 5 Quotes
It was almost as if the other face, the face of the superseded woman, had obliterated that of the intruder.
Related Characters: Zenobia (Zeena) Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

When Ethan asks Mattie to sit in Zeena’s chair, he hopes to be able to fool himself into envisioning Mattie as his wife. However, his guilt and uneasiness with his potential adultery makes itself clear when he superimposes Zeena’s face over Mattie’s. The unsettling image of a gaunt face attached to a youthful figure shocks Ethan, and even Mattie feels discomfort with the violation she has enacted by trying to take Zeena’s place by the fire. Mattie thus becomes “the intruder” who has attempted to replace the woman who actually belongs there, and it becomes clear that Ethan and Mattie can never have the kind of relationship each desires under the circumstances of their current lives—they are too restricted by duty and conscience.

Now, in the warm lamp-lit room, with all its ancient implications of conformity and order, she seemed infinitely farther away from him and more unapproachable.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

After picking up Mattie at the dance, Ethan feels free outside under the stars, in contrast to his feeling within the home. Even though he and Mattie seem to resemble an old married couple, Ethan is uncomfortably aware of the moment’s artifice. Mattie’s distance from him in the house is particularly pointed because of the relationship of the home to the traditional conception of marriage that adultery would violate. The potentially adulterous relationship between the two threatens the “ancient implications of conformity and order” that the home would otherwise suggest, which is underscored by the shattering of the red pickle dish (a symbol of their passion, but also of domesticity and Ethan's marriage to Zeena) and the superimposition of Zeena’s face over Mattie’s. Although Ethan and Mattie should feel more comfortable at home than out in the open, exposed to the harsh elements, instead the house becomes a source of discomfort and disillusionment because of how it manages to separate the two by convention, rather than bringing them together.

Chapter 7 Quotes
"If I'd 'a' listened to folks, you'd 'a' gone before now, and this wouldn't 'a' happened," she said; and gathering up the bits of broken glass she went out of the room as if she carried a dead body . . .
Related Characters: Mattie Silver (speaker), Mattie Silver
Related Symbols: The Red Glass Pickle-dish
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

When Zeena sees the broken pickle dish, she understands that Ethan and Mattie have been adulterous, even though they never physically consummated their betrayal of her. She interprets the broken pickle dish as a violation of Ethan’s wedding vows with her because the dish was a wedding gift, and a memory of what love they once had for each other. Further, it symbolizes the passion that Ethan and Mattie now share, and which Zeena sees as irretrievably beyond her control because it has taken a material toll on her life and her possessions. The red pickle dish’s symbolic resonance with “a dead body” underscores the way that Ethan and Mattie’s betrayal is a crime of passion that has effectively killed any potential of reconciliation between the three.

Chapter 8 Quotes
The early mist had vanished and the fields lay like a silver shield under the sun. It was one of the days when the glitter of winter shines through a pale haze of spring. Every yard of the road was alive with Mattie's presence, and there was hardly a branch against the sky or a tangle of brambles on the bank in which some bright shred of memory was not caught. Once, in the stillness, the call of a bird in a mountain ash was so like her laughter that his heart tightened and then grew large; and all these things made him see that something must be done at once.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 76-77
Explanation and Analysis:

As Ethan prepares for Mattie’s departure, he finds the surrounding landscape to contain memories of and similarities to Mattie, instead of finding it bleak, harsh, and barren of fond memories. Like bits of string from her red scarf catching on tree branches, Mattie’s time at Starkfield remains inscribed on the surrounding environment for Ethan, such that the birds resonate with Mattie’s laughter when the two stood outside after the dance. Ironically, in accepting, rather than rejecting, the landscape around him, Ethan is able to make manifest his desire for change and act on his desire for something different and comforting. However, because Ethan projects his desire for change onto an existing, stable, and harsh landscape, any action he and Mattie undertake to escape their life must necessarily be tinged with disaster, as with all things during Starkfield’s winters.

Chapter 9 Quotes
"You won't need me, you mean? I suppose you'll marry!"

"Oh, Ethan!" she cried.

"I don't know how it is you make me feel, Matt. I'd a'most rather have you dead than that!"

"Oh, I wish I was, I wish I was!" she sobbed.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome (speaker), Mattie Silver (speaker), Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this society, marriage for women is at once a livelihood and a death knell. They must marry to guarantee a home and an income (even though both would belong in name to their husbands) due to the lack of opportunities for women to work outside of the home. However, in marrying, women also lose the autonomy and freedom of unmarried women because they are beholden to their husbands’ desires and expectations, and their previous lives are effectively rendered null, or dead. In considering Mattie married to someone else, Ethan realizes the way that this would effectively render her “dead” in respect to him. Unlike Ethan, who might recover in society from an adulterous relationship, Mattie never could. As such, when he considers Mattie marrying, he considers the total conclusion of any relationship they might have had. For Ethan, it is not so extreme to consider Mattie “dead” to him when he considers her loving, or at least living with, anyone else. (Although of course it's also incredibly selfish of him to prefer her dead altogether, rather than just dead to him.)

Mattie similarly realizes that Ethan would be forever lost to her if she married. However, in saying, “Oh, I wish I was [dead],” she takes death onto herself. Rather than condemning her beloved Ethan to a metaphorical death, as he does to her, she metaphorically takes her own life to save Ethan’s. This kind of suicidal sacrifice speaks again to the insidiousness of gender relations that leaves the woman with a much harsher end of the social and marital bargain.

He laughed contemptuously: "I could go down this coast with my eyes tied!" and she laughed with him, as if she liked his audacity. Nevertheless he sat still a moment, straining his eyes down the long hill, for it was the most confusing hour of the evening, the hour when the last clearness from the upper sky is merged with the rising night in a blur that disguises landmarks and falsifies distances.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Ethan boasts to Mattie about his superior vision and ability to protect her, when the crucial moment comes to sled down the hill, he is momentarily gripped by doubt as he looks down the darkened hill. The danger of the situation is emphasized with the “blur that disguises landmarks and falsifies distances,” which leads the reader to distrust Ethan, even though Mattie does not fear for her life because of his swaggering “audacity.” Ethan’s superior vision recurs as a motif particularly in his interactions with Mattie; yet while he can see small objects and obstacles, his emotional vision is much dimmer and less sure. In squinting at the landscape before him, Ethan tries to overcome this dimmed vision emotionally and physically. While it does not harm them on the first try, Mattie realizes the latent danger and potential harm they could do to one another, inspiring their disastrous second ride down.

Her sombre violence constrained him: she seemed the embodied instrument of fate. He pulled the sled out, blinking like a night-bird as he passed from the shade of the spruces into the transparent dusk of the open. The slope below them was deserted. All Starkfield was at supper, and not a figure crossed the open space before the church. The sky, swollen with the clouds that announce a thaw, hung as low as before a summer storm. He strained his eyes through the dimness, and they seemed less keen, less capable than usual.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

As “the embodied instrument of fate,” Mattie is no longer merely a pawn in the game of her own circumstances; instead, she attempts to gain control of her life as it is spinning out of her grasp. However, to Ethan, she is just one more instrument acting out someone else’s desires over him, even though they overlap in this moment. Mattie ultimately makes the decision to go down the hill to try to kill themselves; Ethan merely follows her lead, thus making the metaphorical path they are about to take that much dimmer and unclear. His eyes fail him in this instance where he is not in control of his body or his future; instead, Mattie exerts unusual control over his actions. (Although, of course, it's not unusual for Ethan to assume that "fate" or outside influence of some kind is really determining his life, rather than his own free will—it's just unusual for Mattie to be the one so powerful and determined.)

With the shift to Starkfield’s population at supper, there is a characteristic jump of Wharton to the everyday and the mundane that permeates more symbolically-rich moments in the novel. As when Ethan is halted in his decision to travel West by the thought of money, here Ethan might be stopped by the thought of the society in which he lives, which passes day by day in the same routine. He and Mattie ultimately attempt to break with such a society in attempting suicide; however, their attempt does not rupture society’s rules or conventions. Instead, it merely ruptures their individual futures.

Epilogue Quotes
"And I say, if she'd ha' died, Ethan might ha' lived; and the way they are now, I don't see's there's much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; 'cept that down there they're all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues."
Related Characters: Mrs. Andrew Hale (speaker), Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

After the “smash up,” Ethan is resigned to live a life of misery with two similarly miserable women: Mattie and Zeena, who now cares for Mattie in a reversal of fortunes. In this way, his life is more like a living death, and was directly a result of his inability to make a decision at the crucial moment in regards to Mattie. By living out their days in such misery, each member of the family is akin to the dead Frome family members buried in the church. In continuing to talk, the living Frome members (primarily Mattie) perpetuate their misery by vocalizing it, while the dead members suffer in silence. The final rebellion of women in the novel is speech, so in some ways, Mattie’s ability to continue talking and complaining after the accident gives her a small sense of agency, while Ethan buries further and further into his dejected taciturnity—that which the narrator experiences when Ethan drives him around town at the beginning of the story.

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Mattie Silver Character Timeline in Ethan Frome

The timeline below shows where the character Mattie Silver appears in Ethan Frome. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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Hiding outside the church, Ethan peeps through a window and sees Mattie Silver, his wife's younger cousin, dancing with Denis Eady, the son of Michael Eady, a... (full context)
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Mattie lives with the Fromes because her own parents lost their money and died a year... (full context)
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Recently, however, Zeena pointed out to Ethan how inefficiently Mattie does the housework. Ethan tried to cover up for Mattie by secretly helping her with... (full context)
Chapter 2
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As Mattie leaves the church after the dance, Denis approaches and talks with her. Ethan, shyly hiding... (full context)
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After Denis leaves, Ethan joins Mattie and they begin the walk back to the farm. They pause near the top of... (full context)
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Wanting to find out for sure whether Mattie has feelings for Denis, Ethan mentions that other people have been saying that Mattie will... (full context)
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As Ethan and Mattie walk through the snowy landscape to the farm, they pass under hemlock trees and the... (full context)
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As they approach the darkened farmhouse, Ethan puts his arms around Mattie. She does not resist. A dead cucumber vine dangling from the porch reminds Ethan that... (full context)
Chapter 3
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The next morning Ethan wonders why he didn't kiss Mattie the night before when he had the chance. The red sunrise reminds him of the... (full context)
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...little money the Fromes have on expensive medicines, he looks forward to being alone with Mattie. Zeena appears old and wrinkled even though she is only 35, eight years older than... (full context)
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At the last minute, in order to buy more time with Mattie, Ethan lies to Zeena—he says he needs to collect payment for the delivery of lumber... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Ethan looks forward to an evening alone with Mattie, and recalls how warm and inviting the kitchen was in the days when his mother... (full context)
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...sinks as he imagines that Denis is on his way to the farm to meet Mattie. Retrieving his horses from Andrew Hale's stable, he surprises Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum secretly... (full context)
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The farmhouse door is locked—then Mattie opens the door, silhouetted in lamplight as Zeena had been the night before. She has... (full context)
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As Ethan and Mattie sit down at the table, Zeena's cat jumps between them onto Zeena's chair. Conversation is... (full context)
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Mattie is distraught. The pickle-dish was one of Zeena's most prized wedding gifts. In fact, Zeena... (full context)
Chapter 5
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After supper, Mattie sews while Ethan smokes his pipe and sits by the fire. Ethan wishes this scene... (full context)
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Gradually, Ethan and Mattie find it easier to talk, and the illusion that they are husband and wife and... (full context)
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Ethan touches the end of the fabric Mattie is sewing, then tells her that he surprised Ned and Ruth kissing by the Varnums'... (full context)
Chapter 6
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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... (full context)
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Ethan tells Mattie he will be back from the mill in time for dinner. The weather has gotten... (full context)
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...he sees that the sorrel horse is not in the barn he believes he and Mattie are alone. (full context)
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However, when Ethan bursts into the kitchen Mattie tells him Zeena has returned and has gone upstairs without saying a word. Ethan tells... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
Chapter 7
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...for her. She replies that they will manage since they won't have to pay for Mattie's board any longer. Ethan is confused, but Zeena shrilly insists that Mattie is a burden... (full context)
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Mattie's voice sounds from the landing, calling Ethan and Zeena to supper. Zeena says she's not... (full context)
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At the supper table Mattie looks at Ethan happily, oblivious to what has just occurred. Ethan is so upset that... (full context)
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Mattie tries to console Ethan but she knows her prospects of getting work are poor. Ethan... (full context)
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...table. Zeena says she is feeling better and starts eating, while Ethan sits speechless and Mattie tries to act as if everything is normal. After eating, though, Zeena complains of heartburn... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...find the kitchen empty, with his pipe laid out for him, and a note from Mattie telling him not to worry. In the kitchen he finds a note from Mattie that... (full context)
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...until she finds a buyer. He also worries how he will be able to support Mattie, considering he has no money and he knows no one who will lend to him. (full context)
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...he sees the moon through the window-pane and remembers that he had promised to take Mattie sledding. The beauty of the snowy landscape seems to mock his wretchedness, and he falls... (full context)
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At dawn, Mattie appears in the doorway wearing her red scarf. She is pale and says she has... (full context)
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...where he meets Jotham Powell. Jotham tells Ethan that Daniel Byrne is willing to take Mattie's trunk to Corbury Flats, so that the sleigh will be lighter when he takes Mattie... (full context)
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At breakfast, Zeena is unusually alert and active. While Ethan looks on, she criticizes Mattie for neglecting the geraniums, accuses her of stealing a number of items, and discusses the... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...Byrne waiting in his sleigh outside the kitchen door. Ethan is shocked to learn that Mattie is getting her trunk down from her room alone, since Jotham is at the wood-lot... (full context)
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Zeena calls to them to hurry and Ethan and Mattie maneuver the trunk down the stairs together. Zeena does not move from her chair or... (full context)
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...Zeena eats hungrily and offers Jotham seconds, though ordinarily she ignores him. She also accuses Mattie of stealing various items. After dinner, Mattie washes the dishes. (full context)
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Ethan tells Jotham not to come for Mattie as he will be driving her to the train station himself. Zeena protests but Ethan... (full context)
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...readies the horse for the trip, he notes the spring-like weather and remembers picking up Mattie at the station a little more than a year before, in similar weather. Zeena goes... (full context)
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...spot in the woods called Shadow Pond, where at a church picnic the summer before Mattie and Ethan sat on a fallen log by the pond. As they sat, Mattie noticed... (full context)
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Ethan longs to reach out and touch Mattie, to tell her how he feels, but just then Mattie says, "We mustn't stay here... (full context)
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As the sleigh winds through the fields back to the Starkfield road, Ethan asks Mattie what she plans to do when she gets to Stamford. When Mattie replies that she... (full context)
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Ethan persists, and Mattie tells him she has been fantasizing about going away with him since the day at... (full context)
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...boys with sleds leaving the sledding-grounds, and at the top of the hill Ethan asks Mattie if she'd like to coast down with him one time before they drive to the... (full context)
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...time they'll ever walk together. Ethan says he thinks the sled is Ned Hale's, and Mattie asks him if this is the place where he saw Ned and Ruth kissing. She... (full context)
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Suddenly, Mattie asks Ethan to sled down with her again, "So't we'll never come up any more."... (full context)
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Ethan climbs onto the sled and Mattie gets on in front of him. He orders her to get on behind him, because... (full context)
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...snow. He wants to help it, and feels around with his hand, which finds something soft—Mattie's hair. He realizes that his hand is on her face, and then he sees her... (full context)
Epilogue
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...room. Ethan introduces the tall woman as his wife, and the complaining woman as "Miss Mattie Silver." (full context)
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...two women "get going at each other." She is about to tell the Narrator what Mattie said to her when she was carried up to the Varnum house after the accident,... (full context)
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...it the worst. She confides to the Narrator that she thinks it's a pity that Mattie survived the accident, because if she had died, "Ethan might ha' lived." She adds that... (full context)