What is Ethan Frome's greatest accomplishment?
This is an unusual question because Ethan is not generally assessed in terms of personal accomplishment. His life is developed in the novel as one of struggle and loss as it is methodically determined by chance events and circumstances beyond his control. He does not escape from Starkfield, he is denied the education he so desires, and the family farm continues to fail, despite his best efforts and hard work. Ethan is a poor man who becomes trapped in a bad marriage and comes to accept this lot in life.
One accomplishment in Ethan's life is that for a brief time he overcomes all that has crushed his spirit and dares to feel genuine love--not duty or obligation--but romantic love, with Mattie Silver. For Ethan, a man bound by tradition and duty, this represents an act of daring. He dares to give in to his emotions, to share with Mattie what he feels in his heart, and to dream of the happiness he has never known.
Ethan's brief emotional rebellion ends in tragedy, but for a short time, he managed to live, not merely exist in a spiritually deadened state. Whether the memory of this joy would be a curse or a blessing for the rest of his life is left to the reader to determine.