Throughout the story, Ethan surrenders his "self" to the needs of others. He does this in his relationship to his wife, in giving up his dreams for his career, and finally, in his attempt to have a life of his own with Mattie. In planning to leave with Mattie, he is humbled physically by the accident when sledding. That injury and the limping that results from it signifies the impotence he has experienced throughout his life in trying to make decisions that benefit himself. Mattie more clearly contrasts with Zeena in the story. The relationship between Mattie and Ethan compares with the relationship of Ruth and Ned, however, in that the latter relationship endures--it is a successful marriage. Mattie and Ethan's does not; it is destroyed by Ethan's wife and his own guilt in trying to leave her and marry Mattie.