Fear and Responsibility in Wharton’s Ethan Frome
A literary study emphasizing the psychological and emotional implications of the three major characters, Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie, whose detrimental submission to fear traps them each in a life of misery.
“Ethan Frome depicts the lethal inclination buried in every human heart to passively accept what is given in life rather than to fight for a desire. It demonstrates the line between responsibility to others and responsibility to self. It condemns extreme self-sacrifice and advocates self-care. Ethan was afraid to change circumstances that were well within his reach. He was emotionally crippled in this way, and it eventually caused the physical crippling of both himself and Mattie, the women he loved. As a result, he is forced to live the rest of his life in desolation with the two bickering women whom he made miserable through his indecisiveness. It is his punishment and his hell on earth. As the narrator says when he once glimpses Ethan’s unguarded face, `he looks as if he were dead and in hell now` (5).”