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One reason Mattie is important to Ethan is that she offers him some distraction from the continual interior, anxious focus caring for an ill (and ill-mannered!) person generates. She gives him opportunity to think of things outside his restricted personal life. She gives him the presence of vital life and cheer. Painfully ironic is the tragic loss of these very qualities from the life they go on to share together.
Mattie is a refreshing youthful and attractive young woman and Ethan can't help but notice that she is completely different from the landscape, the house and his wife. It is revealed in Chapter 1 that Mattie and Ethan walk together in the evenings. It is during these times that Ethan could share with Mattie all that he had learned and
the fact that admiration for his learning mingled with Mattie's wonder at what he taught was not the least part of his pleasure. There were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy.
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