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Date QW Written: December 11, 2015
It is easy to believe that everyone should end up happy with their lives and deserving of their fates. Yet, good people still die young and con-men end up rich. In Wharton’s novel, no con-men exist but there are good people who did not derver their fates. Ethan and Mattie are victims of the circumstances of their unfortunate love and even Zeena is only bittered by the loss of her husband to her younger cousin in a perpetually cold landscape. However much we sympathize with the three does not matter because fate is merciless and has no qualms about serving bad endings to good people. Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena all had aspirations dashed by circumstance and fate; we can believe that the three did nothing wrong to deserve it but fate does not care about what we think.
In Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena, we as readers inevitably find similarities and connections between us and them — it is simply what we as human beings do best. However, because of this fact, we only seem to be able to connect with the pasts of these characters and sympathize their loss to circumstance. In Ethan, we see the loss of dreams to become something greater than one’s background. In Mattie, we see the loss of a carefree sould who had much more to enjoy in the world. In Zeena, we see the loss of the ability to nurture those around her with compassion and kindness. This sympathy for the characters are lost when Wharton throws them into bleak little Starkfield, Massachusetts. We dislike Ethan’s inability to stand up for himself; chastise Mattie’s naievete, and loathe Zeena’s bitterness when these characters have done nothing wrong but live in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the unpalpable land of “what-ifs.” Not that what we think matters because their circumstances are all the work of fate.
That fact is the lesson we as readers take from Ethan Frome — the fact that we all already have our fates written and that despite whether or not we believe we deserve them or not, they are already set in stone.