Duties and Dreams


English 225


Final Draft of Essay 2


Many years ago in Enchiridion, Epictetus declared, “This is your duty, to act well the part that is given to you” (225). This appears to be what Ethan From has done in Edith Wharton’s novel, Ethan Frome. Throughout his life, Ethan sacrificed his own dreams to do his duty as he saw it by taking care of his parents when they were ill, Zeena, even when she was unpleasant, and Mattie after the accident. Ethan Frome sacrificed his own desires to do his duty as he saw it.


Ethan Frome is the main character of Edith Wharton’s tragic novel. Ethan lives the bitterness of his youth’s lost opportunities, and dissatisfaction with his joyless life and empty marriage. Throughout the story Ethan is trapped by social limits and obligations to his wife. He lives an unhappy life with many responsibilities and little freedom.


First, he took care of both his parents. Before his parents became ill, Ethan had made plans for his life, and had taken a year’s course at a technical college at Worcester toward becoming an engineer. However, all of those dreams were postponed when he had to care for his parents. Harmon Gow described how Ethan’s life changed in this way:


Fust his father got a kick, out haying, and went soft in the brain, and gave money like Bible texts afore he died. Then his mother got queer and dragged along for years as weak as a baby; and his wife Zeena, she’s always been the greatest hand at doctoring in the county. Sickness and trouble: that’s what Ethan’s had his plate full up with, ever since the very first helping. (Wharton 13)


Ethan was a very caring son compared to many young people in today’s society. Now days only a few people would give up their dreams to take care of their parents. Although Ethan had his own dreams for his life, he still took care of his parents while they were ill.


Second, Ethan did his duty toward Zeena. After marring Zeena he forgets his hope of every continuing his education and he is now forced to remain married to someone he does not truly love. At the beginning of his marriage, he dreamed of getting an education and leaving the farm with Zeena as his helping wife, but Zeena caused a change in his plans. She did not like the farm, but she would have been out of place in the city or a larger town. Soon after the marriage, she began to be sickly. Again Ethan chose duty over his dream. He took care of Zeena even when she was unpleasant. He decided not to go off and abandon her. It must have been a hard duty because Zeena was very aloof, almost to the point of appearing sullen. She kept to herself most of the time, and her visits to various doctors seemed to be the only occasions where she got out of the house. She may have hoped her illnesses would gain her some sympathy from Ethan. Zeena used a mysterious illness as a way to get out of a lot of housework and have someone do her work she normally would. Today, some people would chose to lave such marriage, but although Zeena was not pleasant to either Ethan or Mattie, Ethan continued to do his best to take care of her.


Third, there was his duty to Mattie. Several years after Ethan and Zeena marriage, cousin Mattie Silver is asked to relieve Zeena, who is constantly ill, of her household duties. Ethan finds himself falling in love with Mattie, drawn to her beauty. At first, Mattie seemed to be a good thing in Ethan and Zeena’s life. She was to be help in the household and was vibrant and full of life. Ethan once described her face as, “…a window that was caught the sunset” (14). When Zeena decided that Mattie must go and be replaced with another girl, Ethan had a brief dream of leaving with Mattie, but he decided he couldn’t leave Zeena to fend for herself. Instead, he let himself be talked into sledding into the tree by Mattie, in attempt to end their lives