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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chapter 5 Quotes
It was almost as if the other face, the face of the superseded woman, had obliterated that of the intruder.
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.
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.
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.
...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)
...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)
...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)
...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)
...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)