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by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome Chapter 7 Summary
Ethan finds Zeena in the bedroom and asks if she wants to come eat. She says she isn't hungry. Ethan knows that she always says this, and then always gets up and eats shortly thereafter. Now Zeena tells him that she is very sick. Ethan says he hopes she isn't. She implies that she might be dying. Ethan pities her in her seeming loneliness, but is rather shocked and begins to call into question the credibility of the doctor she must have consulted with. Zeena defends Dr Buck. Apparently Dr Buck thinks Zeena needs to have a housekeeper, so that she can do nothing but rest all the time. Apparently she has already found one. Aha, thinks Ethan. The doctor thing is all a cheap plot to tear Mattie away from him. He asks Zeena if the doctor also told her how they would pay for this new employee. She tells him that she was too embarrassed to tell the doctor that Ethan didn't care about her health, even though she lost her own health taking care of Ethan's mother. This is a new one on Ethan. Zeena then suggests that Ethan owed it to her to marry her after she helped with his mother. Ethan is shocked by the gruesome scene, and ashamed of his own role in it. He lights the candle. This is his first real fight with Zeena. Ethan reminds Zeena that he doesn't have money to hire anyone else, and tells her she'll have to unhire the new hire. Zeena tells Ethan that the doctor told her that if she doesn't stop working so hard she will die. Appalled, Ethan almost blurts out what he thinks of that idea. Instead, he checks himself and promises to do the extra work himself, and she can be free of all such duties. Now Zeena reminds him that he already has more work than he can take. She makes a crack about his Fromes being poor, and then goes in for the kill – where's the fifty bucks from Andrew Hale? Ethan tells her the truth; Andrew will pay him in three months. Zeena reminds him of his lie from the day before. Not being a good liar, Ethan basically abandons the ruse, and tells Zeena to forget the fifty for the time being. Zeena says she had the fifty in mind when she employed the new maid. Ethan apologizes for being poor, and promises to care for her, with Mattie's help of course. This isn't quite what Zeena has in mind for Mattie. She tells Ethan that things will be less tight without the expense of having Mattie around. Ethan is completely caught off guard at this last comment. Tickled, Zeena begins to laugh at him. She says that now she understands why Ethan was worried about the money – he must have thought she planned to have the new maid in addition to Mattie. Confused, Ethan reminds Zeena that Mattie isn't an employee. She's family. Zeena begs to differ. She explains that Mattie is just a burden, and that she (Zeena) is now done with her share of the charity. She wants to pass the burden on to someone else. Then, Mattie knocks on the door and in a happy voice reminds them that dinner is ready. Through the door Zeena tells her she won't be dining. Panicking, Mattie asks if she's OK, if there's anything she needs. Ethan speaks up, and asks Mattie to wait downstairs. He tries to get Zeena to change her mind about Mattie, but Zeena's mind is set. Mattie is supposed to leave the very next day, to make room for the new person. Now Ethan hates Zeena. She's not the sick, weak, miserable person he thought. No, Zeena is evil, sucking him dry, robbing him of all the good in life. He is on the verge of punching, but instead asks her weirdly if she's not coming down to eat. Zeena says she'll have a little rest instead. Back in the kitchen Ethan and Mattie are trying to enjoy their last dinner. But Ethan can't eat. Mattie begs him to tell her what the matter is, He blurts it out. Mattie can't believe she's to be booted out. She wants to know if Zeena is upset with her about something. Oh no, Ethan tells her. It's like this every time she gets a new doctor. Mattie knows that Zeena is a person who means what she says. She tries to console Ethan. Desperately, he asks her if she has someplace to go. Mattie's future is grim. None of her relatives like her and he knows what happens to women who try to make their ways alone in the cities. Ethan jumps up and tells Mattie that she can't go, and that he's not going to let Zeena have her way this time. Zeena is in the kitchen now, whining that the doctor said she should eat well. She fixes her false teeth and digs in, petting the cat and feeding it scraps. Ethan is in shock, but Mattie tries to make small talk with Zeena, who criticizes her cooking. Now Zeena needs some medicine for the heartburn it has given her. Concerned, Mattie offers to get some. Zeena says the medicines are in a secret place that Mattie doesn't have access to. Ethan decides to step out for a bit of mountain air, but before he gets outside Zeena comes back from looking for the medicine. She doesn't look like a happy camper. She found the broken pickle dish, and wants to know how this came happened. Zeena has never used the pickle dish – their wedding gift. Ethan blames the cat. Zeena says that cat must be pretty smart to try to cover up its crime. Mattie rushes to Ethan's defense, admitting that she had wanted to make the table look nice for dinner the night before. This makes things even worse. Zeena says Mattie purposely took from her most prized possession – the pickle dish – from her. Then she begins to cry, but quickly hardens again. If only she had listened to the people in town, things wouldn't have gone this far. Zeena exits, carrying out the glass pieces like "a dead body" (7.127).
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