Ethan Frome

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Zenobia (Zeena) Frome Character Analysis

Ethan's wife, who is 35 at the time of the main narrative, is described as "already an old woman," with false teeth, wrinkles, a skeletal physique, and a sallow complexion. Ethan was dazzled by her efficiency when she came to nurse his mother, and marries her in order to avoid being left alone after his mother died. He realizes his mistake When Zeena is afflicted by illness and pain that thwart his hopes of moving to a bigger town. Though Ethan suspects that Zeena's illnesses are faked, his sense of duty forces him to take care of Zeena, and she uses her illness to manipulate and control Ethan. The behavior of Zeena's cat implies that Zeena has certain witch-like powers, though this is probably the Narrator's attempt to convey the power she has gained over Ethan and Mattie.

Zenobia (Zeena) Frome Quotes in Ethan Frome

The Ethan Frome quotes below are all either spoken by Zenobia (Zeena) Frome or refer to Zenobia (Zeena) Frome. 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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She sat opposite the window, and the pale light reflected from the banks of snow made her face look more than usually drawn and bloodless, sharpened the three parallel creases between ear and cheek, and drew querulous lines from her thin nose to the corners of her mouth. Though she was but seven years her husband's senior, and he was only twenty-eight, she was already an old woman.
Related Characters: Zenobia (Zeena) Frome
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

When Ethan looks at Zeena, he can’t help but observe her physical imperfections and the evidence of her age, even though she is only thirty-five years old. By sitting at the window, Zeena appears in comparison with the landscape outside, and with the snow’s light’s reflection on her face, Zeena’s appearance blends with the barrenness outside. Like Ethan’s quietness and lack of will that stem from Starkfield’s relentless winters, Zeena’s appearance has been affected by the harsh environment to such an extent that it takes a physical toll on her, creating wrinkles and sapping her skin of healthy color. Comparing the relationship that Ethan and Zeena share to the environment suggests that while male characters like Ethan can develop complex interiorities as a result of their environment, women instead take on the effects of the landscape physically. Thus, the beauty of women is compared to the mental acuity and strength of men, emphasizing a disparity in social attitudes towards men and women under stress.

Chapter 4 Quotes
After the mortal silence of his long imprisonment Zeena's volubility was like music in his ears. He felt that he might have "gone like his mother" if the sound of a new voice had not come to steady him.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Zenobia (Zeena) Frome
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

After Ethan’s mother falls ill, she stops speaking and claims that she is “listening” instead to the various voices around her. As such, Ethan’s loneliness begins to consume him, just as the Starkfield weather consumes him and subsumes his desire for progress or advancement. With Zeena’s arrival, Ethan’s loneliness seems to be turning around, and he welcomes the friendliness offered by another human. Instead of offering something like routine, Zeena is “voluble” (talkative) and therefore adds a sense of difference to Ethan’s life. He grasps on to this feeling—unusual for Starkfield—and decides to marry her, even though Ethan only sees in her what he would see in any person: “a new voice” that can “steady him.” Ethan believes that Zeena saves him from illness and possibly insanity by arriving to nurse his mother and as such, there is a sense of indebtedness that he bears to her.

He recalled his mother's growing taciturnity, and wondered if Zeena were also turning "queer." Women did, he knew. Zeena, who had at her fingers' ends the pathological chart of the whole region, had cited many cases of the kind while she was nursing his mother; and he himself knew of certain lonely farm-houses in the neighborhood where stricken creatures pined, and of others where sudden tragedy had come of their presence. At times, looking at Zeena's shut face, he felt the chill of such forebodings. At other times her silence seemed deliberately assumed to conceal far-reaching intentions, mysterious conclusions drawn from suspicions and resentments impossible to guess.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Zenobia (Zeena) Frome
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

In Starkfield, women did not have much power for individual mobility, and so Zeena was largely restricted to her home with Ethan after her marriage. As such, her access to the outside world came in the form of gossip, and Zeena collected stories of other people’s illnesses as a way of vicariously escaping her own gendered lot. However, the prevailing gossip of illness inevitably contributed towards Zeena’s own sense of ill-being and pain. Like Ethan’s mother, women internalized the harsh environment and their own confinement, turning inwardly and becoming taciturn about their mental sufferings. To compensate, Zeena complained frequently about her external and physical sufferings, only vocalizing when she could complain about her failing body. Ethan suspects that Zeena has a complex interiority beneath her taciturnity, and yet he fears her resentments, which he understands only insofar as he has his own resentments towards her. Both serve as the other’s prison, and enact distinct forms of loneliness and despair that the other cannot relieve, and in fact only exacerbates.

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.

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.

Chapter 7 Quotes
She was no longer the listless creature who had lived at his side in a state of sullen self-absorption, but a mysterious alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of silent brooding. It was the sense of his helplessness that sharpened his antipathy. There had never been anything in her that one could appeal to; but as long as he could ignore and command he had remained indifferent. Now she had mastered him and he abhorred her. . . . All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Zenobia (Zeena) Frome
Page Number: 64-65
Explanation and Analysis:

Ethan can usually ignore Zeena, since she stays at home and only speaks when she complains. However, with her attempting to control her household by dismissing Mattie, Zeena attempts to strip masculine authority from Ethan by asserting her control over his actions. This reversal of traditional gender roles leaves Ethan resentful and furious, because not just his happiness has been overstepped, but also what he regards as his essential role as a man. In his “helplessness,” Ethan is not just made powerless, but he is feminized by his wife. To be a woman in Starkfield at this time is to be relatively helpless in the face of fate, and to be unable to assert authority in relationships between men and women. Because Mattie offers the one possible escape route from his misery, Ethan’s perceived subjugation by Zeena is not just the escape from his present unhappiness, but the insurance that he will be as unhappy as Zeena and Mattie forever.

Chapter 8 Quotes
Must he wear out all his years at the side of a bitter querulous woman? Other possibilities had been in him, possibilities sacrificed, one by one, to Zeena's narrow-mindedness and ignorance. And what good had come of it? She was a hundred times bitterer and more discontented than when he had married her: the one pleasure left her was to inflict pain on him.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Zenobia (Zeena) Frome
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Within Ethan’s anger at Zeena is his fear that he did not sufficiently take hold of his fate to change his circumstances when he was unhappy. With “possibilities sacrificed” to Zeena’s will, Ethan saw his own will and authority subsumed, but wasn’t aware of it until Mattie came to stay with them. Zeena’s unhappiness, further, has grown just as Ethan’s has over time; the two become more and more unhappy with the other every day, and are able to feel happiness only when they hurt the other. Even though Ethan feels guilty over his potential adultery with Mattie, still he derives a thrill from it that stems, in part, from his desire to exert authority over his own life even at the risk of causing Zeena unhappiness.

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Zenobia (Zeena) Frome Character Timeline in Ethan Frome

The timeline below shows where the character Zenobia (Zeena) Frome appears in Ethan Frome. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
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...horse, resulting in disability, insanity, and death; his mother also went insane; and Ethan's wife Zenobia (also called Zeena) suffers from frequent real or imagined illnesses. (full context)
Chapter 1
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...parents lost their money and died a year earlier. She now helps Ethan's sickly wife Zeena with household chores in exchange for room and board. To make the transition from city... (full context)
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Recently, however, Zeena pointed out to Ethan how inefficiently Mattie does the housework. Ethan tried to cover up... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...Mattie will be leaving the Frome household. Mattie, however, thinks that Ethan is referring to Zeena's dissatisfaction with the way she does the housework. Mattie is clearly distressed at the prospect... (full context)
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...does not resist. A dead cucumber vine dangling from the porch reminds Ethan that if Zeena were to die, he and Mattie would be free to marry. (full context)
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The key that Zeena normally leaves under the doormat isn't there, and the guilty lovers experience a moment of... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...The red sunrise reminds him of the rosy color of Mattie's cheeks. In contrast to Zeena's constant discontent, Mattie's positive attitude seems remarkable to him, considering how difficult her life has... (full context)
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The next morning, Zeena informs Ethan that she is going to Bettsbridge to consult a new doctor and stay... (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 from his mill to... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...a "talker," until her illness, when she fell silent and began to hear voices. When Zenobia Pierce, his cousin, came to help nurse his mother, Ethan was grateful for the company... (full context)
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When they married, Zeena and Ethan agreed that they would sell the farm and saw-mill and move to a... (full context)
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After a while, Zeena had stopped talking almost entirely, except to complain. Ethan wonders if Zeena is going crazy... (full context)
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...reads: "Dwelled Together in Peace for Fifty Years." He wonders if his own headstone with Zeena will bear the same words. (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 strained as they feel that somehow... (full context)
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Mattie is distraught. The pickle-dish was one of Zeena's most prized wedding gifts. In fact, Zeena prizes it so highly that she never ever... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...he can't see Mattie where she is sitting so he tells her to sit in Zeena's rocking-chair. When she does, Ethan is unsettled to see Zeena's face superimposed on Mattie's. Mattie... (full context)
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...blushes. He feels that he has crossed a line: inside the house he shares with Zeena, Mattie seems unapproachable. The two talk about Ruth and Ned's upcoming marriage and Ethan, thinking... (full context)
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...something might happen between them... But just then, the cat darts at a mouse and Zeena's rocking-chair begins to rock, reminding them that Zeena will be back the following day. As... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (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 Mattie he will... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Ethan calls Zeena's name, but when she does not answer he goes up to their room. Zeena, sitting... (full context)
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When Ethan objects angrily to the cost, Zeena shouts back at him that she would have been ashamed to tell the doctor that... (full context)
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Struggling with rage and disgust, Ethan tells Zeena that he lacks the money to pay for a hired girl and that he will... (full context)
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Ethan humbly apologizes to Zeena for being a poor man and says he will do the best he can for... (full context)
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Mattie's voice sounds from the landing, calling Ethan and Zeena to supper. Zeena says she's not coming down and Ethan calls out that he will... (full context)
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Realizing that he has been "mastered" by Zeena, Ethan looks at his wife with loathing. His helplessness makes him hate her, and he... (full context)
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...Mattie is bewildered, and Ethan is forced to tell her that the doctor has ordered Zeena to get a hired girl, which Mattie realizes would force her to leave. (full context)
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Ethan says he won't let her leave, and that he will stand up to Zeena. At that moment Zeena comes down from the bedroom and sits at the table. Zeena... (full context)
Chapter 8
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As he writes, Ethan is besieged with doubts about whether Zeena will be able to sell the farm, and how she will keep it going until... (full context)
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...Mattie he thinks things will "straighten out" and not to take any notice of what Zeena says. (full context)
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At breakfast, Zeena is unusually alert and active. While Ethan looks on, she criticizes Mattie for neglecting the... (full context)
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At the Hale's house, Mrs. Andrew Hale greets Ethan and expresses sympathy for Zeena's poor health and for Ethan's troubles. Ethan is grateful for her sympathy, and continues on... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Zeena calls to them to hurry and Ethan and Mattie maneuver the trunk down the stairs... (full context)
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At dinner, Ethan cannot bring himself to eat. Zeena eats hungrily and offers Jotham seconds, though ordinarily she ignores him. She also accuses Mattie... (full context)
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...to come for Mattie as he will be driving her to the train station himself. Zeena protests but Ethan is firm. Zeena tries a second time, demanding that Ethan stay to... (full context)
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...up Mattie at the station a little more than a year before, in similar weather. Zeena goes upstairs without saying goodbye, complaining of shooting pains in her legs. With a feeling... (full context)
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...if he could. At that moment Mattie pulls out the letter Ethan began writing to Zeena the night before. He asks Mattie if she would have gone west with him, but... (full context)
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...she has to leave him. Ethan thinks of going back to his intolerable life with Zeena, and kisses Mattie again, stroking her hair. (full context)
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...planning and is waiting for them. Just before they strike the tree, a vision of Zeena's face appears before him, and as he tries to brush it aside the sled swerves,... (full context)
Epilogue
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...ignores him, but the woman in the chair complains in a high, thin voice that Zeena fell asleep and let the fire go out, and that while it was out she... (full context)
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...the accident, but she starts crying and cannot finish her sentence. No one knows what Zeena was thinking, she says, but as soon as Mattie could be moved, Zeena took her... (full context)