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Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome

by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome Chapter 2 Summary

  • As the youths rush out of the church basement Ethan stands back and watches.
  • It is a merry scene.
  • He hears a woman call out to Mattie, asking her if she plans on doing a little sledding tonight.
  • Ethan feels his pulse suddenly race.
  • Mattie declines the offer to sled, citing weather.
  • Ethan is very near Mattie, though they can't see each other.
  • Ethan knows Mattie will show herself soon, and that as his eyes are adjusted to the dark, he'll be able to see her clearly.
  • (Though she won't be able to see him.)
  • Shyness takes him and he hides a little more.
  • Mattie's who Ethan thinks is a brighter, easier person than himself, had helped bring him out of his shell, and had helped lighten him up.
  • But now Ethan feels uneasy, like back when he was in college, and "had tried to 'jolly' the […] girls" (2.3).
  • (It's implied that Ethan wasn't too successful in his jollying.)
  • Mattie, one of the last to exit the dance, looks around, maybe like she's looking for Ethan.
  • A man walks near her.
  • The man insinuates that Mattie has been stood-up by Ethan, and says he has his dad's "cutter" to help rectify the situation.
  • He wants to use it to sled with Mattie.
  • Ethan is in suspense.
  • Denis fetches the old cutter, but Mattie laughingly refuses his advances.
  • He continues trying to persuade her, and they move beyond Ethan's range of sight and vision.
  • (Finally) Ethan hears Eady drive up, and he runs to Mattie, and asks her if she thought he'd stood her up.
  • Mattie says she didn't; but that she thought maybe Zeena was sick.
  • Ethan assures her this is not the case, and asks Mattie if she intended to walk home all by herself.
  • Excitedly, she says she is not afraid of the long walk home.
  • Ethan asks why she didn't accept Denis' offer to drive her.
  • Mattie asks how he knew about the Denis thing, laughing.
  • They walk on, arm in arm, in the darkness.
  • Ethan desires to rub his check on Mattie's scarf.
  • Instead, he asks Mattie if she'd like to make a coasting date with him.
  • They decide to have a little coasting adventure the following night, provided the moon is bright.
  • Mattie tells Ethan that the other night Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum had almost met their deaths by accidentally crashing into an elm tree at the bottom of the slope.
  • It would have been so sad, because Ned and Ruth are happy and in love.
  • Ethan claims he can take that elm tree with his sled anytime, and asks if Mattie would still be afraid of the elm if he were driving the sled.
  • She says she's not the fearful kind, but she says it like she doesn't care.
  • Mattie is a person of quickly changing moods.
  • Ethan doesn't feel he has "the right to show his feelings" and find out hers (2.38).
  • So he's constantly trying to read every little thing she does and says to see if she likes him, and knows he likes her.
  • Right now he thinks she doesn't care.
  • When she dissed Denis Eady he felt joy.
  • Now he feels almost like there is no hope.
  • But Ethan needs to know if she likes him, and so he tries to provoke her a little.
  • He suggests that if she hadn't danced that extra dance with Denis Eady, she would have seen Ethan right away.
  • She doesn't try to defend herself.
  • He takes the more direct approach and says he imagines that the rumors are true.
  • She wants to know what rumors he's talking about.
  • Rumors, he tells her, that she'll be leaving the Frome household soon.
  • Mattie begins to freak out, and she asks Ethan if Zeena has had enough of her.
  • She says she knows she's not the most excellent helper in the world, but that she could do better if Zeena would just express her needs a little more.
  • Mattie can tell by Zeena's face that she isn't happy with her.
  • She begs Ethan to tell her what Zeena needs – unless he too wants to see her gone.
  • Of course he doesn't want her to go. Her words soothe him. He knows she wants to stay.
  • They walk together quietly.
  • When they hear a gunshot, and then a fox bark, Mattie snuggles up closer to Ethan and then begins to walk faster.
  • He asks her if she for sure doesn't want to leave the Frome house.
  • She asks him where she would possibly go if she left, and Ethan thinks she might be crying, though she denies it when he asks her.
  • He feels her warm body next to his.
  • They walk in though the gate of the Frome house, and passed "the Frome grave-stones slanted at crazy angles through the snow" (2.55).
  • The gravestones seem to speak to Ethan. Taunting him they seem to say, if they couldn't escape Starkfield, how could Ethan?
  • Ethan has the sudden thought that he will be stuck in Starkfield until he dies.
  • He knows he has to find a way to keep Mattie with him forever, and he imagines being buried with her when they both die.
  • When he has thoughts like that he feels happy.
  • Mattie trips and steadies herself by yanking on Ethan's sleeve.
  • He puts his arms around her for the first time.
  • She doesn't try to stop him. They walk together this way.
  • Zeena is probably in bed.
  • She always goes to bed right after she eats.
  • The windows of the house are dark.
  • Ethan sees "a dead cucumber vine" drooping off the porch (2.58).
  • Sometimes people tie a streamer to a door handle when a person formerly living in the house has died. The vine reminds Ethan of one of those.
  • He imagines it might be for Zeena.
  • Ethan imagines her lying upstairs now, in bed, with her mouth open. Zeena doesn't have any of her own teeth left. He imagines her fake teeth, in a cup by their bed.
  • Zeena usually locks the door and leaves the key under the mat for Ethan and Mattie.
  • Ethan and Mattie stop groping each other, and Ethan goes for the key.
  • Alas! The key is not to be found. A bit of a panic ensues.
  • Something stirs from within the house.
  • The door opens.
  • Zeena appears.
  • She has a blanket wrapped around herself with one hand, and is holding onto a lamp with the other.
  • Her face is cast in shadows.
  • She looks very different to Ethan, than ever before.
  • Ethan and Mattie walk into the bitterly cold kitchen.
  • He asks Zeena if she forgot the key.
  • She says, "No. I just felt so mean I couldn't sleep" (2.70)
  • (These phrase is rather ambiguous, at least until we know more. Click here for some meanings of the word "mean" and see which ones you think apply.)
  • Mattie understands this to mean that Zeena has been feeling physically ill and rushes to her offering sympathy and help.
  • Zeena refuses, and gripes at her for not stomping her boots before entering the house.
  • Then she walks over to the stairs.
  • Ethan wants make sure that Mattie goes up before he does.
  • Otherwise, she might seem him walking into the bedroom with Zeena, and he doesn't like the idea of this.
  • So, Ethan says he's going to stay down and do a little accounting work.
  • Zeena says he'll get sick if he works without heat.
  • (In the early 1900s, when this book is set there wasn't too much central heating going on, certainly not in Starkfield.)
  • He looks at Mattie as he walks away toward the kitchen, and she looks a little afraid.
  • When she's safely headed up the stairs, he agrees with Zeena about the cold, and follows her up the stairs.

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