Ethan Frome Questions and Answers
by Edith Wharton

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In Ethan Frome, what are the major internal and external conflicts?

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Frome is internally conflicted because he knows that he cannot just abandon Zeena and elope with Mattie. Zeena is an unpleasant person, querulous and irritable, and Ethan doesn't love her. But she's also ill, though the nature of her illness might be psychological. She is manipulative as well, perhaps because she senses Ethan has little feeling for her. His own conscience or inner self prevents him from taking the step with Mattie he dreams of taking. This was a time when people couldn't just leave their spouse, file for a no-fault divorce, and then assume that, in spite of the immediate turmoil this would cause, all would turn out for the best and each party would find a new life and a new partner and then live happily ever after. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, things didn't work that way. Ethan and Mattie both feel trapped, and the outcome is that they essentially destroy themselves.

But externally, the conflict is a mirror of this. The impracticality—financially...

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mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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udonbutterfly | Student

One of the major internal conflicts would be Ethan has an unrelenting desire to be with Mattie however his great sense of responsibility continues to hold him back from acting on it. And example of this would be the scene where him and Mattie are sitting by the fire place and you can definitely feel the tension that is happening between them. However the Zeena's cat that sits in her chair reminds Ethan of his responsibility as a husband and holds back from acting on his desire except for placing a kiss on Zeena's cloth that she was working on.

One of the major eternal conflicts would be when Zeena decides that it's time for Mattie to leave and puts her out on the streets. Ethan tries so hard to keep Mattie but Zeena is unrelenting in her decision.