Do you feel any sympathy for Ethan's wife Zeena?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What ironic parallels do you find between the lives of Zeena Frome and Mattie Silver?

The ironic parallels that I find between the lives of Zeena Frome and Mattie Silver include their fear for loneliness and isolation. Both women seem to want a change in their lives but are unable to take the first step. As a result, they both see Ethan as a form of anchor: Zeena sees him as her much-needed companion while Mattie sees him as a prince charming-type savior. Both women are bitterly disappointed: Ethan is neither one thing nor the other; just a regular guy with extremely bad luck.

Most importantly, the ironic similarity between Zenna and Mattie is that they both enter to the town of Starkfield primarily as care takers of someone else. Zenna took care for Ethan's mother while Mattie went there to care for Zeena. Sadly, poverty and lack of opportunity, left them both stuck in Starkfield for the rest of their lives.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous observation from MWestwood is very true! It seems as if Zeena has only one purpose in life, and that is to care for those whom she would feel are even worse off than she is: Is it because she wants someone to feel sorry for as a way to feel better? Or is it that she has a sick fascination with self-sacrifice?

I am not sure to which category she belongs, but I actually DO feel sympathy for Zeena because I imagine that someone who goes to those extremes must have some inner need that she has not been able to satisfy. I think that Zeena is aware of her many obnoxious qualities but does not know how to change. I believe she is also aware of Ethan's fears and feelings, but she is unable to think of a way to keep him near her- unless it is by becoming his nurse and that of Mattie's to top it all. Overall, Zeena does need all the psychological help she can use.


amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Zeena came to help Ethan with his mother and ended up becoming his wife.  She was young, pretty, full of life and energy.  Once married, she became just like his mother...a person who needed care.

Mattie came to help with Zeena.  She attracts Ethan like Zeena once did.  She is young, pretty, full of life and energy.  The two of them contemplate running away together, but money is an issue. 

When they hit the tree while on the sled, Ethan and Mattie are the ones for which care is needed and Zeena becomes her full of life and energetic self again.  She gets up and becomes the care-giver. 

Strangely enough, all three of them live under the same roof in a tension-filled, uncomfy home.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

She is a bit difficult to like throughout the novel when she is acting like a weak hypocondriac and spending money the Fromes can ill afford to be spending; but once Mattie arrives, I for one, feel bad for Zeena.  How can she compete against the young and pretty Mattie?  She sees what is happening and comes as close as she can to confronting Ethan when she locks him and Mattie out of the house.  She sees how Ethan is acting around Mattie.  In the end she knows that something was up the day Ethan and Mattie went sledding, and now she is stuck nursing back to health the woman who was a threat to her marriage.  While I don't find her likable, I do sympathize.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No sympathy.  Zeena, whose name starts with the last letter of the alphabet, is never at the beginning of anything, only the end.  She cares for Ethan Frome's dying mother, and after the woman dies, she takes up the role of someone at the end of her life.  In a perverse way, she seems to enjoy being sick and having some new ailment that gives her attention as she appears to be reaching her "end."  When Mattie becomes a greater victim than she, Zeena must assume the other end of the role and be the caregiver.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I partly do feel sympathetic towards her, yet at the same time she really irritates me. On the one hand, it must be so hard to watch your cousin, young and beautiful and healthy, come in and "look after" you, but at the same time, Zeena is an embittered person that makes her own life and the lives of those around her a misery. We should feel sorry for her because of her illnesses, but at the same time health is a lot about our attitude and how we face our trials, and Zeena does not do this very well at all.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do have some sympathy for Mattie; however, I also find her weak in nearly every way. She never learned useful skills, which is certainly partly her family's fault but also hers. She seems willing enough to try some domestic tasks but fails miserably at most of them. Ethan is enamored with her primarily because she's everything Zeena is not--and that's not really much of a recommendation.  While I wouldn't wish Mattie's fate on her, I also don't have much sympathy for her, either.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I have a little bit of sympathy for both Zeena and Mattie. I think that in some ways both of them are just trying to find a way to survive in a world where a man needs a woman. They each find a way to do it that we may not agree with, but they do it after all.
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What ironic parallels do you find between the lives of Zeena Frome and Mattie Silver?

udonbutterfly | Student

I think it is really hard to sympathize with Zeena because she did take advantage of Ethan. There was a part in the book where Ethan said he would not have married her if he known he would be stuck taking care of Zenobia. That the reason she was probably so good at taking care of his mother is because she was sick her self. Zeena blatantly saw opportunity and used it so she could have a stable future knowing that she was sick.

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Ethan Frome

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