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by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome Chapter 5 Summary
The meal is over. Mattie cleans up and Ethan does the final chores. The snow is coming down hard. The scene is just as he imagined it. Mattie by the fire, sewing, and he is now puffing the pipe, stretching the hard-working legs. Ethan can't see Mattie where she's sitting so he suggests that she sit in Zeena's chair. Actually Mattie gets up and sits in the chair. This turns out to a bad idea. It's almost as if as if Mattie turns into Zeena. Mattie also seems to feel uncomfortable about this arrangement and goes back to her initial position. Ethan steals glances at her from his spot. The cat takes over Zeena's chair. As the quiet sets in they relax and talk. Ethan reminds Mattie that they had a coasting date for tonight. Because there is no moon, they decide to postpone sledding for the following evening. Mattie is blushing furiously. Ethan asks her if she would be too afraid to sled with him on a moonless night. She says she's scared of nothing. He says that he is actually afraid. Sledding on a moonless night is a good way to die. In the dark there is no way to see the killer elm tree. Ethan decides to tell Mattie that he saw Ruth being kissed. All night he'd wanted to tell her, but regret was instant. It sounded rough and rude, and triggered more intense blushing from Mattie. She guesses quietly that he'd seen Ruth and Ned. Ethan had hoped he might get a kiss of his own that way, though he would have settled for the touch of her hand. His comments seem to have had the opposite effect. Ethan thinks he's unusually shy about these kinds of things. When they were in the open air together they were more free than now that they're indoors. Mattie and Ethan talk about Ned and Ruth, and how they are planning a summer wedding. Ethan then suggests that Mattie will be the next to wed. She wants to know why he keeps bringing that up. He says it's to help the reality of it sink in for him. Could it also be because Zeena has a problem with me? Mattie wants to know. Ethan seems irritated by her question and asks what she's talking about. She brings up Zeena's behavior the night before. Well, Ethan says he can't imagine why Zeena might have a problem with Mattie. This isn't reassuring to Mattie, and wants to know if Zeena said anything to Ethan about her. Ethan tries to reassure Mattie that Zeena has not said anything. He then begs her, tenderly, to change the topic. More blushing. The cat jumps out of Zeena's chair in pursuit of a mouse. On the coffee table rests the end of the piece of cloth Mattie is sewing. Ethan touches it and they seem to have some kind of psychic communication through the cloth. An image of Zeena back in her chair the next day captures Ethan. Mattie seems to pick up his anxiety over this. So Ethan, in a daze, kisses the end of the piece of cloth, with his eyes closed. When he opens his eyes Mattie is rolling up the piece of cloth and preparing to leave the room. Together they bring the geranium flowers away from the windows so they don't get frozen in the night. Ethan's candle in her hand, Mattie goes up stairs, telling him good night. The sound of Mattie's door closing reminds Ethan that "he had not even touched her hand" (5.41).
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