Literapedia Book Notes for

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton


  • Narrator (Introduction)—tells the story of Ethan Frome
  • Ethan Frome (Introduction)—main character of the story who must deal with his unsatisfactory living conditions
  • Denis Eady (ch 1)—son of prosperous grocer and potential suitor of Mattie Silver
  • Mattie Silver (ch 1)—cousin of Ethan's wife and romantic interest of Ethan
  • Zeena (ch 1)—sickly wife of Ethan

Chapter Summaries

  • Introduction: The narrator who is staying in the town of Starksfield catches sight of Ethan, whose grim and morose appearance is only heightened by his limp which he received after an accident. The narrator accepts a ride from Ethan to the Flats as the train is blocked by snow.
  1. A younger Ethan walks into town to pick up his wife's cousin Mattie Silver from the local dance. He sees her dancing with Denis Eady, the grocer's son, and begins to feel both jealous and worried that Mattie might not harbor feelings for him. He remembers his wife Zeena telling him that Mattie and Denis might marry.
  2. Once the dance is over, everyone exits, and Ethan hides in the shadows, wondering if Mattie will accept a ride from Denis. He is overjoyed when she doesn't and proceeds to escort her back to their farm outside the town. When they arrive at the farm, Ethan cannot find the key which his wife usually leaves out for them. The door is opened by Zeena herself, and they all walk in.
  3. Ethan goes out into the farm the next day, and reflects on how Mattie came to live with them. He comes back to the house to find that Zeena is leaving for Bettsbridge in order to consult a physician about her many ailments. In order to avoid dropping her off, Ethan says that he is going to collect money for lumber from Andrew Hale.
  4. Ethan looks forward all day to come home to dinner with Mattie all alone. However, he is unable to collect the money from Andrew Hale, and he knows that Zeena will be angry. He goes home, and Mattie and he enjoy together until the cat breaks Zeena's prized glass dish. Ethan promises to fix it before Zeena notices.
  5. Ethan and Mattie sit around the stove after dinner and talk about Mattie and her marriage prospects and Zeena's ill-will towards Mattie. Each falls silent at the mention of Zeena. Then they go to bed.
  6. The next day, Ethan goes out to do the farm work. The inclement weather delays him from going into town, but he still manages to find one bottle of glue to repair the dish. He goes back to the farm and tell Mattie that he found the glue. Mattie whispers that Zeena has come back and is upstairs.
  7. Ethan goes upstairs to Zeena, and Zeena informs him that she has hired a new girl to replace Mattie. Ethan, enraged says that there is not enough money to support a new girl, but Zeena catches Ethan in his lie about collecting money for lumber. Although he is angry, Ethan refrains from arguing with Zeena and goes downstairs to Mattie for dinner. After he tells Mattie, they kiss and lament the future. Zeena comes down to eat dinner and discovers the broken glass dish.
  8. After dinner, Ethan stays in his study where he reflects on ways out of this situation. He wishes to run away with Mattie, but realizes that Zeena would be left with nothing and he himself would have no money to support Mattie. He goes into town the next day to ask Andrew Hale for money so that he can run away with Mattie, but his conscience gets the better of him.
  9. Ethan takes Mattie down to the train station, despite Zeena's protests. As they go to town, Ethan and Mattie confess their love for one another. Impulsively, Ethan decides to take Mattie on a sleigh ride down a dangerous trail. Mattie and Ethan agree to purposely hit the elm tree so that they can die together. At the last minute, Ethan swerves, and they hit the tree, but both survive.
  • Conclusion: The story refers back to the present, and the narrator is invited to stay with Ethan because of the inclement weather. The narrator enters the house to discover that Zeena, a silent woman, and Mattie, a complaining woman, are in the kitchen. The narrator later learns that Zeena has to take care of Ethan and Mattie who both suffered from their accident.

Student Contributor

Nisha Sharma, '08