In the book Ethan Frome,Ethan had been in a marriage to Zeena for awhile when her cousin Mattie Silver came to live with them. Zeena had come to Ethan's home to care for his ill mother with Ethan until she died. After she died Ethan felt obligated to marry Zeena. Zeena appears to be a hypochondriac in the book. She always talks about medical treatment and goes to see doctors. There is no love or warmth between Ethan and Zeena.
When Mattie comes Ethan feels love for the first time. Mattie lightens his heart and brings him joy. Zeena goes out of town to see a doctor and Mattie and Ethan pretend what it would be like if it was just them. After Zeena retruns she begins to suspect what is going on between them and orders Mattie to be sent away. Mattie has no where to go and would end up on the streets starved and destitute.
Ethan realizes he can not live without Mattie. Theydecide to take a ride down a mountain sledding. It is a trip they have made before togetehr for fun. This time the two know that it may be more serious. Rather than be parted they both decide to take a final sled ride. Ethan aims for a big tree hoping to hit it head on. Out of nowhere come some children and to avoid hitting them he swerves slightly.
Mattie and Ethan receive severe injuries. Ethan breaks his back and is deformed and hunched over. Mattie screams in agony and is taken to another house. Later Zeena goes and gets her taking her home. Mattie has been paralyzed and must depend on Ethan and Zeena for her constant care and needs. Ethan is now in a home with his wife who always feigns illness and he reminder of the love he had with Mattie who is now broken and destroyed.