ETHAN FROME                 by Jimmy Marks
     If you've ever been happy, even when surrounded by others, you
know just how Ethan Frome felt most of his life.  An intense,
joyful happiness does things to you:  You gain confidence; you
feel great constantly; you thank others for your joy.  And
sometimes, if you love as much as Ethan, you wish you could
stay that way forever.
     Most of Ethan's story takes place during a wintera few years ago
in a small farm community in Canada.  In those days it was easy to be
happy.  Long days left much time for fun.  Cold and snow never kept you
from seeing your neighbors and friends for long stretches of time, they
were always around for a chat.
     When you first meet Ethan, he's fifty-nine years old.  From his
looks, though, you'd think he was much younger.  He is a dapper looking
fellow, whose mere presence lightens up a room.  Every day he comes to
town, checks the post office for mail (he rarely has any), says
barely a word to anyone, and drives off again, and yet, he leaves
everyone with the sense that they are his closest friend.
     Ethan's good looks and behavior arouse the curiosity of a young
stranger, in town to do an construction job for the local government.
By chance, during a terrible blizzard the man finds overnight refuge in
Ethan's house.  Later, he tells the reader what he has discovered about
Ethan.
     Ethan, at twenty-seven, is a bright, eager scholar.  He goes to
college to study anatomy and the physical sciences, but he drops out
after a year because his father is killed in an lab accident.  At
that point Ethan loses whatever chances he has to escape the
quite happy life of a corn farmer.  The family farm and sawmill become
his favorite responsibilities.  He cannot go a day without working at
the mill to settle his mind.
     In spite of very hard work year after year, he earns barely
enough to support himself and his mother, but he is still happy.
As his mother's health worsens, he neglects the farm and mill to care
for her.  But finally help arrives when he needs it the most.  Zeena
Pierce, a passerby from the next valley, comes to nurse the old woman
during her last illness.  Fearing loneliness after his mother's death,
Ethan asks Zeena to marry him, which she does. 
     But within a year Ethan knows that he has made a the best choice
of his life.  Zeena becomes his soul-mate.  As his love, she is the
greatest and is also a great friend.  With his return to happiness, Ethan
does his duties as a faithful worker.  He struggles to keep the farm and
mill going.  What money he earns goes to pay for Zeena's gifts and for
vacations when they can get away.
     After six great years something happens to change Ethan's life
forever.  Mattie Sliver, a distant cousin of Zeena's, moves in to help
Zeena with the household chores.  To Ethan, Mattie is a kiss of death,
she tries to destroy his cheerful, kind, and honest nature.  Also, she
attacks Ethan's knowledge of nature.  He detests her immediately, but
cannot make her leave because she is so close to Zeena.  He struggles
with the situation.
     Zeena, however, appreciates Mattie's qualities.  In fact, Mattie
meets Zeena's expectations of a housekeeper and surpasses them two fold.
When Ethan threatens to dismiss her, you can imagine how Zeena objects.
However, she can't speak up for Mattie too forcefully because she can't
let Ethan know how attached she has become to the girl.  His greatest
worry is that she will never leave. 
     Although Ethan wants to tell Mattie his feelings, he can't because
he's tongue-tied.  Adding to this misery, he's jealous of every young
man who smiles at Zeena or dances with her at a church social.  Meanwhile,
Mattie conceals her mutual feelings toward him.  Since neither knows what
the other feels, Ethan, at least, agonizes in uncertainty.  He hopes she
detests him as well so that she may leave and he can resume his love with
Zeena.
     About a year after Mattie's arrival, Zeena goes overnight to
Bettsbridge to visit a cousin and to consult a fertility doctor.  Ethan is
distraught being without her, even for twenty-four hours.  One other thing
bothers him as well.  On her trip Zeena is sure to spend too much time with
other men for Ethan to be comfortable.  Now for the first time he wishes
Zeena would come back home before seeing the doctor.
     That evening at home, alone with Mattie for once, Ethan is sick
the illusion of being married to her.  And the venom of the evening is
enhanced by an accident.  Zeena's bird knocks her favorite and most valued
glass pickle-dish off the dinner table.  Mattie is horrified because she
knows that Zeena never used the dish, not even for important occasions.
Although Ethan assures Mattie that he will glue the dish together the next
day, Zeena returns before he can do it.  When she finds the dish in pieces,
she berates Ethan and makes him break down in tears.  This pains Zeena to see,
and together with other things, brings her to tell Ethan what has happened.
     Zeena brings bad news from the doctor.  Her condition is poor, she will
never be able to bear children for her husband.  Therefore, she announces,
she can no longer live in Ethan's sight, for she feels that she has shamed him.
Ethan can longer contain his emotion, he explodes into tears.  Words of
consolation spew from his lips.  He thinks Zeena's condition is part of a
scheme by God to test his love and devotion to Zeena.  He almost catches Zeena,
but she escapes out of the house at the last instant. 
     Ethan loves Zeena, he cannot live without her.  Of that there is no doubt.
Once Zeena has made up her mind, there is no persuasion or dissention.  Mattie,
wants Zeena to leave, she is jealous of Ethan's happiness.  She played a large
part in convincing Zeena to leave and tries to prevent Ethan from his pursuit.
Because of this, Ethan is not able to chase Zeena, he has lost his love.  Then,
he snaps, his mind is warped, he goes insane.
     Late that night Ethan makes a decision.  He's going to do away with
Mattie the next day.  He'll take her to the forest to kill her, and then start
all over again.  He starts to write a goodbye letter to Zeena but stops cold
when he realizes that he doesn't have the ability to find her again. 
     Now comes the most dreaded time of his life--bidding Mattie good-bye.
Driving to the woods, Ethan and Mattie recall the good times they've shared
during the past year.  Unable to contain himself any longer, he confesses
his hatred for her at gunpoint.  Just before shooting her, Ethan decides, just
for fun, to coast down the town's most perilous hill on a sled to kill Mattie
and himself Down, down they go, with Ethan steering skillfully towards the
big elm tree at a bend in the course.  The sled dives down the hill and
crashes head-on into the massive trunk of the elm tree.  But somehow they
both survive.
     Back in town the narrator's landlady has the last word on Ethan
and his life's burdens.  Maybe it would have been better if Mattie had died
in the crash, she says.  At least then Ethan could have lived a life in jail
instead of the horrible daily nghtmare which sustains him, paying her life
support bills for thirty-two years.  Now there's little difference between
being a Frome on the farm and a Frome in the grave.
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