protagonist of the story, Ethan is a farmer whose family has lived
and died on the same Massachusetts farm for generations. A sensitive
figure, Ethan has a deep, almost mystical appreciation of nature,
and he feels a strong connection to the youth, beauty, and vital
spirit of Mattie Silver, his wife’s cousin. However, he ultimately
lacks the inner strength necessary to escape the oppressive forces
of convention, climate, and his sickly wife.
in-depth analysis of Ethan Frome.
sickly wife, more commonly known as “Zeena.” She comes across as
prematurely aged, caustic in temperament, prone to alternating fits
of silence and rage, and utterly unattractive, making her the novel’s
least sympathetic figure. She is acutely interested in the treatment
of her own illness, displaying a degree of hypochondria (imagined
illness or minor symptoms secretly relished and exaggerated by the
patient). Despite Zeena’s apparent physical weakness, she, not Ethan,
holds the dominant position in their household.
cousin, who comes to assist the Fromes with their domestic tasks.
Attractive, young, and energetic, Mattie becomes the object of Ethan’s affection,
and reciprocates his infatuation. Because the reader sees Mattie
only through Ethan’s own lovesick eyes, Mattie never truly emerges
as a well-rounded character. She often seems more a focus for Ethan’s rebellion
against Zeena and Starkfield than an actual flesh-and-blood person
with both strengths and weaknesses.
in-depth analysis of Mattie Silver.
he recounts the story’s events, the narrator (an engineer by profession)
plays no part in the story itself. That he remains nameless highlights
the thinness of his character. As a stranger to Starkfield, he views
Ethan Frome’s story with fresh eyes and operates as a conduit between
the closely guarded story of Frome’s tragedy and the reader in the
world outside the novel.
son of Starkfield’s rich Irish grocer, Michael Eady, and sometime-suitor
of Mattie Silver. Denis is the focus of Ethan’s jealousy in the
novel’s early chapters, before Ethan learns of Mattie’s true feelings.
Mrs. Ned Hale
of Ned Hale and landlady to the unnamed narrator. The narrator describes
Mrs. Hale as more refined and educated than most of her neighbors. Although
she was once intimate with the Fromes, she hesitates to discuss
their plight with her inquisitive lodger.
Varnum’s fiancé and later her husband. Ned and Ruth’s romance contrasts
with the fruitless love of Ethan and Mattie. Ned has died by the
time the narrator comes to Starkfield.
father, Andrew Hale is an amiable builder involved in regular business
dealings with the young Ethan. When Ethan requests that Hale extend
him an advance on a lumber load, Hale is forced to politely refuse,
citing his own financial constraints. Nevertheless, Ethan (mistakenly)
continues to regard him as a possible source of a loan.
Mrs. Andrew Hale
Ned’s mother and Andrew’s wife, Mrs. Hale extends
an unexpected degree of warmth to Ethan after encountering him by
chance one winter afternoon. Her kindness and praise for his dedication
to Zeena lead Ethan to reevaluate his decision to borrow money from Andrew
Hale to elope with Mattie.
hired man on the Frome farm. Powell’s main duty is to assist Ethan
in the cutting, loading, and hauling of lumber. Markedly reticent,
Powell is sensitive to the tensions between the Fromes but loath to
involve himself in them.
former stage-driver and town gossip. Gow provides the narrator with
a scattering of details about Ethan Frome’s life and later suggests
that the narrator hire Ethan as a driver, paving the way for the relationship
through which the narrator learns Ethan’s story.