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Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome

by Edith Wharton

Morality and Ethics Theme

Ethan Frome is concerned with personal morality and puts forth a number of complicated moral quandaries. For example, should Ethan Frome pursue true love and run away with Mattie, or should he stick it out with his wife Zeena? The characters face numerous conflicts which pit their personal desires against their perceived moral and ethical responsibilities.

Questions About Morality and Ethics

  1. If Mattie and Ethan had had sex, would that change the way you feel about them?
  2. Is Zeena just in her treatment of Mattie? Of Ethan? Of herself?
  3. Mattie asks Ethan several times if he thinks Zeena is upset with her. Does this tell us anything about her moral code? Does Mattie think she behaving inappropriately with Ethan? Does Ethan think they are doing anything wrong?
  4. Is Ethan being fair when he doesn't believe his wife's illnesses? Why or why not?
  5. What do you think about Ruth's argument that it would have been better if Mattie had died?
  6. How do you feel about Mattie and Ethan's suicide attempt?
  7. Do you think Ethan had a right to leave Zeena? Did Ethan have an obligation to leave with Mattie since he loved her?
  8. Does Ethan fulfill his moral obligations to himself? What are those obligations in the first place?

Chew on This

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

Because Ethan loved Mattie and didn't love Zeena, it would have been morally correct for him to run away with Mattie.

In Ethan's moral code, it's more important not to hurt people that it is to find personal happiness.

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