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As the narrator enters Frome's kitchen, we are told that "the querulous drone ceased". The narrator sees two women in the kitchen, but we don't know who had spoken at the beginning of the scene ("of the two women sitting there I could not tell which had been the speaker", p. 98). Yet, as the scene goes on, the narrator recognizes that the voice was that of the woman sitting "huddled in the armchair near the stove" who is much smaller and lighter than the other woman. We are told that "her body kept its limp immobility" under a shapeless dress and that her "bright wich-like stare" was typical of those suffering of "the disease of the spine". Having read the events of the narrative, the reader may have started to guess that the woman is Mattie Silver and her identity is revealed on the next page (page 100 in the 1991 Virago Modern Classics edition). Mattie is the cousin of Ethan Frome's wife Zeena. Mattie goes to live with Zeena and Ethan to help her cousing with housekeeping. Yet, she falls in love, reciprocated, with Ethan. When Zeena decides to separate the two by sending Mattie away, the two lovers attempt suicide. Yet, they do not succeed and when the narrator meets Mattie she clearly shows the signs of the accident that have left crippled, but alive and in Zeena's care. Zeena is in fact the other woman in the scene and she appears very cold and detached.
In the conclusion of Ethan Frome, the narrator entered Ethan's house as a courtesy from Ethan considering that he had been the man's driver for a while. He had known the story of Ethan as the reader learned about his love fantasy with Mattie, how they plotted a sudden suicide pact, and how the pact failed, leaving Ethan into a near-paralyzed man.
We know that, as the narrator approached he heard what he described as a "querulous drone", or a voice nagging and complaining almost incessantly. We discover that the woman who is nagging is none other than Mattie herself, who has become now an invalid due to the accident, and a bitter one at that. To add to the pain, Zeena is ultimately both Mattie and Ethan's care taker, making the oppression of Ethan and Mattie not only physical but moral, psychological and fateful.
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