by Edith Wharton
The Church Basement and the Frome Home
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
When Ethan goes to pick up Mattie from the dance, he watches her through the windows of the church basement. He is literally outside in the cold looking in on the warm place, where young people are dancing, and enjoying themselves. This divide represents the distance between Ethan's current life and his hopes for happiness. Why can't Ethan go in and join the fun? What force holds him back?
This distance begins to dissolve when Ethan is alone in the kitchen with Mattie. Part of Ethan's problem is that he can't imagine being with Mattie anywhere but in the Frome kitchen. This can definitely be taken as a comment on the limited roles available to women in the early 1900s. Ethan's wish to always have Mattie in his kitchen is granted, but it's warped, and not at all what he had in mind. Instead of the haven Ethan imagined, in the Epilogue we see that the kitchen becomes a trap, a place of endless strife and suffering, a place where broken beings seek warmth, love, and comfort, but never quite reach it.