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Explain the irony used in Ethan Frome.

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jaymilly | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 1, 2010 at 11:02 PM via web

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Explain the irony used in Ethan Frome.

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted January 2, 2010 at 12:53 AM (Answer #1)

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Ethan Frome is a good and simple man in the book "Ethan Frome."  He spends his life caring for others.  He cares for his sickly mother and brings in Zeena to assist him in her care.  Out of obligation he marries Zeena after his mother's death.  Zeena is also sickly.  Ethan once again is stuck caring for someone and has no happiness in his life.

Mattie is brought by Zeena to live with them and help care for Zeena.  Initially Ethan does not want her there.  However, he soon falls in love with Mattie and for the first time in his life he finds joy and love.  He experiences true happiness.

Zeena finds out about Mattie and sends her away.  Ethan knows he has to let Mattie go but can not bear it.  He also knows that if Mattie leaves she will have a terrible life because she has neither money nor prospects.

Ethan decides to take a last sleigh ride with Mattie.  He is contemplating suicide and begins to steer the sled toward a large solid tree.  Children on the route force him to gear off his direction which results in him hitting the tree in directly.  He and Mattie are both seriously injured.  Mattie screams for days in pain and is left an invalid.  Ethan's body is broken and he no longer is able to walk straight and he is destined to a life of pain and discomfort.

In the end of the story the man at Ethan's home is introduced to a woman.  The first woman he sees, he thinks is Ethan's wife.  He is aware that Ethan's wife is in bad health.

There are several ironies;

1-Ethan did not want Mattie to come, but she ends up being the one thing that brings him happiness.

2-The thing that can make Ethan happy is to have Mattie in his life, but she can not stay.

3-Ethan's effort to take his and Mattie's lives ends up putting them in a worse position than before.

4-Ethan had to care for women who are sick all his life.  Mattie was the symbol of an escape from that.  Now she is broken and in pain and he has to care for her and Zeena.

5-The man thinks that Mattie is Zeena, but in truth Mattie is now the worse off of the two women.

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