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Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome


by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome Chapter 3 Summary

  • Ethan gets up early in the morning to do some wood hauling.
  • The day is see-through, with a huge burning sunrise, showing glimpses of the forest in the distance.
  • Zeena and Ethan hadn't talked last night in their bedroom, and both seemed to want to be as far away from each other in the bed as possible.
  • In bed, Ethan had continued fantasizing about Mattie.
  • He wishes he had kissed her.
  • This was a new desire.
  • When he'd seen Mattie's lips by the light of Zeena's lamp "he felt that they were his" (3.3).
  • Ethan's head is full of Mattie's face.
  • He thinks about how much healthier and happier she looks than when she first came to live with them.
  • There was some doubt as to whether Mattie would be able to deal with the harsh climate, and lack of company, but she never complained.
  • Zeena thinks Mattie doesn't complain because she knows she has nowhere else to go.
  • Ethan thinks it's something deeper, and notes in his mind that Zeena doesn't have anywhere else to go either, and she complains all the time.
  • Mattie father was Zeena's cousin. He recently died, leaving Mattie with nothing.
  • After the funeral it became apparent that he had cheated many people in business, and had left his wife and daughter penniless.
  • Mattie's mother died from the news.
  • Mattie was about twenty then (making her about twenty-one now), and all she had was $50 from selling her piano, and very few skills that would interest most employers.
  • She had tried to learn "stenography" (shorthand), accounting, and clerking in a store.
  • All of these tasks apparently made her ill.
  • The relatives that Mattie lived closest to had been cheated by her father. While they had lots of advice for Mattie, they were no willing to help her out financially.
  • They decided that giving her to Zeena would allow them to get their revenge on the father, and give them the feeling of a clean conscience for having done their duty to her.
  • Zeena was happy to get Mattie, because she could criticize Mattie to her hearts content, and Mattie would have to take it.
  • Zeena laid the criticism on thick at first. Her trick was that she did it without making a sound.
  • Ethan wanted Mattie to tell Zeena to stuff it, but was really scared about what might happen if she did.
  • But, summertime took care of the problem somewhat.
  • The warmth helped restore Mattie to health, and since she could do more work, Zeena could spend more time worrying about her illness.
  • Zeena didn't criticize Mattie as much after that.
  • Ethan had a heavy load.
  • Even though he worked all the time, neither the farm, nor the mill did well.
  • At least he could worry a little less about what was going on his home now that Zeena had eased up on Mattie.
  • But now, Ethan fears things have changed for the worse.
  • To try to keep his mind off the fear, Ethan works extra hard.
  • One day he thinks that there might be problems on the home front, and wants to be around if things get ugly.
  • So he goes home and finds Mattie making coffee, and Zeena sitting at the table.
  • Zeena is dressed for travel in a bonnet and brown-wool dress.
  • Her packed luggage is near.
  • When questioned by Ethan, Zeena announces that she is and is headed to Bettsbridge "to see that new doctor" (8.49).
  • Zeena had done this a few times before, and these visits to doctors were always extremely expensive, and beyond what Ethan could afford.
  • The doctors always gave her expensive medicines and cures, including some kind of strange twenty-dollar battery that Zeena never figured out how to use.
  • While Zeena explains to Ethan how badly she needs to go to the doctor, Ethan calculates how long she will be gone. He reasons that there is no way she can be back to tonight.
  • Ethan rapidly agrees to let Jotham Powell, the guy who works for him, drive Zeena.
  • Ethan is looking at Mattie while Zeena is talking to him, but manages to tear his eyes away and face his wife.
  • Zeena is only thirty-five to Ethan's twenty-eight, but "she [is] already an old woman" (3.18).
  • All Ethan can think about is having a night alone with Mattie, and he wonders if Mattie is thinking what he's thinking.
  • He needs to give Zeena some excuse as to why Jotham is driving her instead of him.
  • Ethan blurts out that he plans to collect some money from Andrew Hale. Andrew owes him money for wood.
  • Hale isn't going to give Ethan any money, and he knows it. But, now Zeena will be counting on that money, and will find a way to spend it before he gets it.
  • Zeena won't be happy to hear that the funds didn't materialize.
  • Not seeming to pay attention to Ethan, Zeena drinks the last of some medicine she has and then tells Mattie that if she can remove the taste of the medicine from the jar, it can be used as a container for pickles.

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