In Ethan Frome, why is Mattie in the Frome household?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Soon after Ethan married Zenobia, Zenobia fell ill and became an invalid.  She was tormented, supposedly, with illness after illness, and had a really hard time getting things done around the house.  She needed some help, and with Ethan gone at the mill and trying to make money each day, he couldn't do it.  The Fromes were also too poor to pay a maid servant to come.  So, Mattie, a cousin of the family who had recently fallen on hard times because her father died, was enlisted to help.  In the past, Mattie had tried to make money at various jobs, but it hadn't worked out for her, and had made her weak.  She was in need of a place to stay anyway, was young, and family.  So she was the best option for the Fromes at the time.

Mattie, unfortunately, isn't too much help.  She is frail and sick herself, doesn't know how to clean or cook very well, and frequently messes things up.  But, she gets a little better, gets stronger in the robust air, and does bring quite a bit of joy to Ethan's life.  She is good at helping Zena out with her illnesses. So, for a while, she is a valuable asset to the Frome household.  I hope that helps a bit; good luck!