Ethan Frome

The protagonist of the novel and its tragic hero, Ethan is 28 years old in the main narrative and 52 years old in the frame story. According to the Narrator, he is a tall striking figure, despite being "a ruin of a man," an allusion both to the crippling injury and the disappointments he has suffered. Circumstances are partly responsible for Ethan's troubles, but his failure to act decisively in his own interest contributes to the unhappy condition of all three of the major characters by the end of the novel. Sensitive to natural beauty and intellectually curious, Ethan finds in Mattie a companion who appreciates his learning and respects his authority.

Ethan Frome Quotes in Ethan Frome

The Ethan Frome quotes below are all either spoken by Ethan Frome or refer to Ethan 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:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Ethan Frome published in 2005.
Prologue Quotes
"Guess he's been in Starkfield too many winters. Most of the smart ones get away."
Related Characters: Harmon Gow (speaker), Ethan Frome
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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"Sickness and trouble: that's what Ethan's had his plate full up with, ever since the very first helping."
Related Characters: Harmon Gow (speaker), Ethan Frome
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

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He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters.
Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ethan Frome, Harmon Gow
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes
For years that quiet company had mocked his restlessness, his desire for change and freedom. "We never got away—how should you?" seemed to be written on every headstone; and whenever he went in or out of his gate he thought with a shiver: "I shall just go on living here till I join them." But now all desire for change had vanished, and the sight of the little enclosure gave him a warm sense of continuance and stability.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Chapter 5 Quotes
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:

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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:

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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:

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The inexorable facts closed in on him like a prison-warder handcuffing a convict. There was no way out—none. He was a prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light was to be extinguished.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Ethan Frome Character Timeline in Ethan Frome

The timeline below shows where the character Ethan Frome appears in Ethan Frome. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
...a job at a power plant in Corbury Junction, Massachusetts, describes his first impressions of Ethan Frome. Frome is a badly crippled but still striking older man whom the Narrator has... (full context)
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...owner Denis Eady's horses fall ill from an epidemic, Gow suggests that the Narrator hire Ethan to drive him to the train station and back every day. Gow explains that the... (full context)
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Although Ethan says little as he drives the Narrator to the station, the Narrator learns that Ethan... (full context)
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One day, a severe winter storm blocks the railroad. Ethan drives the Narrator the full ten miles to the power station, along a road that... (full context)
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On the way home the storm worsens and Ethan and the Narrator are forced to take shelter at the Frome farm. As they enter... (full context)
Chapter 1
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The Narrator's "vision" of Ethan Frome's story , told in the third person, begins. It is winter in Starkfield. Young... (full context)
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...because her own 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... (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... (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 in the shadows, eavesdrops on their conversation. Denis brags that he has his... (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... (full context)
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As Ethan and Mattie walk through the snowy landscape to the farm, they pass under hemlock trees... (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... (full context)
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...sleep," meaning that she feels ill. Not wanting Mattie to see him follow Zeena upstairs, Ethan claims that he wants to stay up and go over the mill accounts. Mattie warns... (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... (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 overnight with... (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... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Ethan looks forward to an evening alone with Mattie, and recalls how warm and inviting the... (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 larger town,... (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 like his mother (and many other women who lived... (full context)
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Not wanting to be caught in the lie he has told to Zeena, Ethan goes to Andrew Hale with his load of lumber and asks for an advance payment,... (full context)
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In the village Ethan is passed by Denis Eady in his father's cutter (a fancy sled for the time).... (full context)
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On the way home, Ethan passes the Frome graveyard again and sees the headstone of his namesake, another Ethan Frome,... (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.... (full context)
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...wedding gifts. In fact, Zeena prizes it so highly that she never ever uses it. Ethan consoles Mattie by replacing the broken fragments on the top shelf of the china-closet, saying... (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 of domestic bliss... (full context)
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Gradually, Ethan and Mattie find it easier to talk, and the illusion that they are husband and... (full context)
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Ethan touches the end of the fabric Mattie is sewing, then tells her that he surprised... (full context)
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Realizing that time is running out, Ethan touches the fabric a second time. This time Mattie notices, and it seems as if... (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... (full context)
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Ethan tells Mattie he will be back from the mill in time for dinner. The weather... (full context)
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After dinner, Ethan hurries to the village with the logs, then to Michael Eady's store for the glue.... (full context)
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However, when Ethan bursts into the kitchen Mattie tells him Zeena has returned and has gone upstairs without... (full context)
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...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... (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.... (full context)
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When Ethan objects angrily to the cost, Zeena shouts back at him that she would have been... (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... (full context)
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Ethan humbly apologizes to Zeena for being a poor man and says he will do the... (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... (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 feels... (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 he can't eat... (full context)
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Mattie tries to console Ethan but she knows her prospects of getting work are poor. Ethan remembers stories he has... (full context)
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Ethan says he won't let her leave, and that he will stand up to Zeena. At... (full context)
Chapter 8
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After the scene in the kitchen, Ethan goes on his nightly inspection of the farm. He returns to find the kitchen empty,... (full context)
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As he writes, Ethan is besieged with doubts about whether Zeena will be able to sell the farm, and... (full context)
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As Ethan lies hopelessly on the sofa, he sees the moon through the window-pane and remembers that... (full context)
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...listening for him to come upstairs. As daylight comes and the stove warms the kitchen, Ethan feels more hopeful. He tells Mattie he thinks things will "straighten out" and not to... (full context)
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Ethan goes out to the barn, where he meets Jotham Powell. Jotham tells Ethan that Daniel... (full context)
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Ethan is ashamed at what Mattie must think of him and confused about what to do,... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Back at the farm, Ethan finds Daniel Byrne waiting in his sleigh outside the kitchen door. Ethan is shocked to... (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... (full context)
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At dinner, Ethan cannot bring himself to eat. Zeena eats hungrily and offers Jotham seconds, though ordinarily she... (full context)
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Ethan tells Jotham not to come for Mattie as he will be driving her to the... (full context)
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As Ethan readies the horse for the trip, he notes the spring-like weather and remembers picking up... (full context)
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Instead of going in the direction of Starkfield, Ethan turns the sleigh toward Bettsbridge. They drive to a beautiful spot in the woods called... (full context)
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Ethan longs to reach out and touch Mattie, to tell her how he feels, but just... (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... (full context)
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Ethan persists, and Mattie tells him she has been fantasizing about going away with him since... (full context)
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...see some 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... (full context)
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As they climb back up the hill, Ethan thinks to himself that it's the last time they'll ever walk together. Ethan says he... (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." Ethan asks... (full context)
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The train whistles in the distance. Ethan wonders if he will feel anything after he dies. His horse whinnies, and he thinks... (full context)
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Ethan climbs onto the sled and Mattie gets on in front of him. He orders her... (full context)
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Lying in the snow after the crash, Ethan sees a star and wonders vaguely if it is the star Sirius. He feels very... (full context)
Epilogue
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Ethan comments that the fire seems almost out. The tall woman ignores him, but the woman... (full context)
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...only goes there twice a year, because she can't stand to see the look on Ethan's face when the two women "get going at each other." She is about to tell... (full context)
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...that life must be horrible for them all. Mrs. Hale agrees, but says she thinks Ethan has it the worst. She confides to the Narrator that she thinks it's a pity... (full context)