What roles were women expected to fill in Ethan Frome, in particular the Gilded Age, and how did this affect their choices?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Post Civil War restoration and growth period known as the Gilded Age had different roles for different people. However, the role you played in society back then as a woman was directly proportional to the economic means that your family name had. These were the days of the pretty ladies, of the imposing morality, of the strong binds to the family, and times when women who were upper class and white would have found quite productive activities, for it gave them many opportunities for social activity and even jobs. One thing, however, is that they were expected to be the nurturers of society: Take care of the sick, enforce social reform, and ensure a good family unit.

However, in Ethan Frome we do not see this type of pretty, rich and upper class women portrayed due to the extremely low financial stability of the Frome household. Instead, Ethan is in a tug of war between his wife and his would be lover.

Yet, both of them do have something in common with the Gilded Age: Their roles of caretakers. In Ethan Frome his wife took care of Ethan's ailing mother to the point that his wife got sick herself. Yet, this was not an family obligation: It was her actual role in life.

And it went further when Ethan and his would be lover have the accident, become deformed, and have to remain in the Frome household as invalids, Frome's wife again took the role of caretaker, even though it included caring for the woman for whom her husband was going to leave her.