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Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome


by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome Theme of Education

Ethan Frome's title character wants education almost as much as he wants love. His fine mind can't reach its potential because he's never been able to concentrate on its development. He sacrificed his education to care for his parents, and ended up stuck on a farm in a backwards town. If Ethan had abandoned his sick parents, he could have gotten that education he desired, but he probably also would have been wracked with guilt. Though more subtly explored than Ethan's lack of education, the lack of education for the novel's women might leave a 21st century reader appalled. Without education, the characters feel they lack options.

Questions About Education

  1. Why does Mattie get really sick when she tries to learn accounting? Why doesn't she seem to have any practical skills? What might Mattie suggest about the state of education for women during Wharton's time?
  2. Does Zeena have an education? Where did she learn her nursing skills? Does any of this contribute to the tragedy of the story?
  3. Why didn't Ethan finish his education? How might his life have been different if he had? What does he want to learn?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Ethan Frome shows how a limited education equals limited options.

The character of Mattie Silver is used to express the problem of education in Edith Wharton's time, particularly where women are concerned.

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