What are some examples of foreshadowing in Ethan Frome?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ethan and Mattie's sled ride in chapter 9 foreshadows their subsequent failed suicide attempt. All seems well—on the surface, at least. Ethan and Mattie are about to share a fun sled ride down the hill. But their tears hint at something more unpleasant to come. They both know that this is the last time they will ever see each other again, and they cannot live without each other. So, the next time they board the sled, we know that there won't be a happy ending.

Indeed, that fateful, suicidal sled ride is foreshadowed in chapter 1 when Mattie and Ethan discuss the elm tree and the death it's brought to others who've gone sledding down the hill:

She lingered, pressing closer to his side. "Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum came just as near running into the big elm at the bottom. We were all sure they were killed." Her shiver ran down his arm. "Wouldn't it have been too awful? They're so happy!"

Death is foreshadowed a lot in Ethan Frome, though no one in the story actually dies. What we have instead is spiritual death, which is presented as being much worse than the physical variety. All this foreshadowing is leading up not to physical death but to the living death of Mattie and Ethan, as Mrs. Hales makes clear right at the very end:

"There was one day, about a week after the accident, when they all thought Mattie couldn't live. Well, I say it's a pity she did. I said it right out to our minister 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 there's much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; 'cept that down there they're all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues."

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main example that Wharton uses is when Ethan describes the sledding hill for the first time and tells Mattie about how the tree could really do some damage, should anyone hit it.

Chapter 1: Ethan is on his way to pick up his wife’s cousin, Mattie Silver, who is attending a church dance. The night is cold;the village buried under snow. He stops for a moment to look over the long hill behind the church, a favorite place for coasters—a scene that foreshadows the tragedy of Chapter 9.

Chapter 2:As Ethan and Mattie walk home, they pass the big elm at the bottom of the hill, and Mattie mentions that her engaged friends, Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum, had almost run into it while coasting.

Chapter 3: Ethan recalls how sickly-looking Mattie had been when she arrived in Starkfield and how healthy and strong she has become--foreshadows her sickly future.

Chapter 4: Gives us more background on Ethan's mother who was energetic and chatty in her youth but became quiet and withdrawn after her illness.  This also happens to Zeena within a year of their marriage.

Chapter 5: Ethan is able to savor his evening with Mattie, although Zeena’s absence causes some constraint. Mattie serves the pickles in one of Zeena’s best cut-glass dishes, and when the cat accidentally breaks it, both she and Ethan are terrified.

udonbutterfly | Student

Two examples of foreshadowing that I remember in Ethan Frome would be when Ethan and Mattie were talking about a couple that was recently engaged and how they almost ran into a tree. This foreshadowed Ethan and Mattie's crash they have towards the end of the book. There is also when Ethan talks about how ill Mattie looked when she initial began to live with them and slowly she becomes radiant and full of life. This would foreshadows her permanent injuries that she has after the wreck.