Ethan Frome Questions and Answers
by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome book cover
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Examine the line that Mrs. Hale speaks in the last paragraph of Ethan Frome. Why are these lines significant? "I said it right out to our mister once, and he was shocked at me.  Only he wasn’t with me that morning when she first came to… And I say, if she’d ha’ died, Ethan might ha’ lived; and the way they are now, I don’t see’s much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard…"

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This is one of the most significant lines in the whole book.  Mrs. Hale is referring to the recovery of Mattie after the misguided suicide attempt by Ethan and Mattie. Ethan becomes the weak, limping man who we know from the start of the book because of his injuries from the crash into the big oak tree while attempting to crash and kill both himself and Mattie.  Ethan's injuries, while awful, are manageable.  Mattie on the other hand was more severely injured and as a result of her injuries, she is a complete invalid and her once sunny nature has changed into that of a cranky, miserable woman.  As harsh as it sounds, Mrs. Hale is probably right.  It would have been better for everyone if Mattie had died of her injuries.  If she had, Ethan would not have had to spend the rest of his life living with his mean, cold wife, Zeena, and the broken, bitter Mattie who now serves as an ironic shell of the person she was and a constant reminder of Ethan's failures and his unending predicament -- forever stuck in duty to these two women.  When Mrs. Hale says that there is little difference between the Fromes in the graveyard and those at the farm, she is saying that even though Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena are breathing and existing, they are essentially dead.  They are going through the motions of existence and are in a state of irresolvable misery.  Death would actual be a relief.

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