How is communication an important theme in Ethan Frome?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Communication is an important theme in Ethan Frome because the story shows how little of it actually takes place in the Frome household. This continuous lack of communication only intensifies the silent chaos that exists within the four walls of the small Frome house. Silence harbors within it ideas, conjectures, fears, sadness, anxiety, and many emotions that come as a result of a repressed existence. This being said, we can conclude that communication is the key to the solution to many of the problems, and it is the lack of communication what creates a number of catalysts that result in even more misery for Ethan's sake.

Zeena spends her life in a sort of contemptuous silence. Her silence brings a tension into the household that makes the atmosphere thicker and more intense than it already is. With Zeena's silence comes doubt and wonder: Does she know that Ethan is in love with Mattie? Does she know that Mattie is in love with Ethan? Does she know about their plan? Does she know that something is going on?

Zeena's silence terrifies Ethan and Mattie equally. Since it is impossible to read through Zeena's affect, it is even harder to establish any form of bond that would enable communication with her. Hence, it is best to keep quiet. However, with this quietness come the "what if's" that would turn anyone's life into a living hades.

Conclusively, communication (or the lack-thereof) is the consistent element that drives the motifs of the story. It is also what ultimately leads the destinies of the main characters.