Isolation in Ethan Frome
Ethan Frome is a story of ill-fated love, set during the winter in the rural New England town of Starkfield. Ethan is a farmer who is married to a sickly woman named Zeena. The two live in trapped, unspoken resentment on Ethan's isolated and failing farm. Ethan has been caring for his wife for six years now. Due to Zeena's numerous complications they employ her cousin to help in the house, the animated Mattie Silver. With Mattie's youthful presence in the house, Ethan is awoken of the bitterness of his youth's lost opportunities, and a dissatisfaction with his life and empty marriage. Ethan and Mattie in turn, fall in love. However, they never follow their love due to Ethan's morals and the respect he has for his marriage to Zeena. Ethan eagerly awaits the nights when he is able to walk Mattie home from the town dances. He cherishes the ground she walks on.
After a visit to the doctor, Zeena is told that she needs more sufficient hired help. Thus, she decides to send her incompetent cousin away and hire a new one. Ethan and Mattie are desperate to stay together. However, Ethan's lack of financial means and Zeena's health are factors that will never allow him to leave Starkfield. Unable to find any solutions to this problem, Ethan and Mattie decide to commit suicide by sledding into a tree. They figure it is the only way they can be together. The attempt fails, and the two are left paralyzed. Now Ethan's wife must care for the two for the rest of their lives.
There were many themes found in Ethan Frome, but the greatest of them all is loneliness and isolation. In college Ethan acquired the nickname "Old Stiff" because he rarely went out with the boys. Once he returned to the farm to care for his parents, he couldn't go out with them even if he wanted to. Whatever he's done has kept him apart from others: tending to the farm and mill, nursing his sick mother and caring for Zeena. Ethan's isolation is intensified, because he is often tongue-tied. He would like to make contact with others but can't. For example, when he wants to impress Mattie with beautiful words of love, he mutters, "Come along."
In their own ways, Zeena and Mattie are solitary figures, too.