Theme of Courage in Ethan Frome

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As stated by Maya Mendoza, “No amount of security is worth the suffering of a mediocre life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams. ” Maya Mendoza believes that it takes courage to pursue one’s dreams, and that without courage one will not be able to accomplish certain goals. This is a correct statement because many people who have courage during certain situations experience better consequences than people who lack courage in similar situations.

The novel Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton focuses on the theme of courage and supports this idea. In this novel there are many characters who experience worse consequences when they lack courage, and better consequences when they exhibit courage. In the novel, there are many events where courage is not exhibited. These events start to happen after the prologue, when the character Ethan Frome is introduced. Ethan Frome likes a girl named Mattie, but the problem for him is that he has a wife named Zeena. Ethan Frome does not have enough courage to stand up to Zeena and that makes him experience many consequences. For instance, one day when he is walking back to his house with Mattie, Zeena does not leave the keys for him like she always does. She then opens the door and lets them in. Zeena is described, “Against the dark background of the kitchen she stood up tall and angular…and deepened the hollows and prominences of her high-boned face under it’s ring of crimping pins”(27). This makes it seem like Ethan Frome is almost scared of her. Later, when he is in his house, Zeena tells him to come upstairs. Ethan Frome does not want to do this because he feels like it would be weird for Mattie to see him go upstairs with Zeena. He tries to make up excuses as to why he cannot go upstairs with her so he says, “I’ve got mill accounts to go over”(28). This excuse does not work and Zeena argues that he should not stay downstairs. He finally agrees with her and goes upstairs.

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This event shows that Ethan Frome lacks courage in this situation. If he had been more courageous he could have stayed downstairs, but he lacked courage and was forced to go upstairs with Zeena. This is why his lack of courage leads to him feeling like he made Mattie uncomfortable during this situation. A character who does not lack courage in the novel is Zeena. She does not lack courage in many situations and that gives her the results that she strives to achieve. There are many situations in which Zeena exhibits courage. Firstly, she exhibits courage when she hides the key from Ethan Frome and Mattie while they take a walk. This event proves to her that there is something going on between Ethan Frome and Mattie from the incident when he refused to go upstairs with her. After this, she goes to the doctor for her health condition. When she comes back from the doctor she has a plan to get rid of Mattie based on what the doctor tells her. This takes courage because she doesn’t know how Ethan would react to this news, but she tells him anyways. First, she wants Ethan Frome to feel sympathetic towards her so she tells him, “I’m a great deal sicker than you think”(59). She tells him that she has complications and Ethan Frome starts to feel bad for her. Zeena then tells the news to Ethan Frome about why she needs to get rid of Mattie. She says, “He wants I should have a hired girl. He says I oughtn’t to have to do a single thing around the house”(60). Ethan and Zeena start to fight and Zeena tells him, “The doctor says it’ll be my death if I go on slaving away the way I’ve had to. He doesn’t understand how I’ve stood it as long as I have”(62). They both get angry at each other, but Zeena does accomplish what she wants which is to get rid of Mattie at least for a while. Zeena’s courage ended up paying off for her in that moment.

There is also an event after Zeena tries to kick Mattie out of their house, where the Ethan Frome does not exhibit courage once again. This happens after his fight with Zeena about Mattie leaving. Ethan Frome begins to have thoughts about running away with Mattie since she is being forced to move out of his house. He even goes to Andrew Hale to ask for money so that he could be able to run away with Mattie, “Suddenly it occurred to him that Andrew Hale. . might be induced to reconsider his refusal and advance a small sum on the lumber if he were told that Zeena’s ill-health made it necessary to hire a servant”(77). He later decides that this is wrong because he is taking advantage of someone. He gives up and goes back to his house. He lacks the courage to run away with Mattie, and gives himself reasons of why he is unable to run away with her. If he had the courage to do something about his situation earlier, he would have been able to change something about his life but he didn’t and now has to face the fact that he will not be able to be with Mattie, and might not even be able to see her again. In the novel, there are many events that the characters experience, and the consequences to this are truly shown at the end of this novel in the epilogue. The narrator finds out that Ethan Frome still lives with both Mattie and Zeena. This happens because he does not have enough courage earlier on to make any change to his life. The narrator talks to Mrs. Hale who tells him, “It’s a pity though, . . . that they’re all shut up ther’n that one kitchen. . . I don’t see there’s much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down at the graveyard”(99). This truly shows the consequences that the characters faced because Ethan Frome’s lack of courage. Many events go on in the novel, and characters like Ethan Frome do not exhibit courage, while characters like Zeena exhibit courage. Ethan Frome does not change the situation he is in because he lacks the courage to do so, but Zeena changes her situation by a little bit by trying to get Mattie to move out.

After all of these events, they end up living together because Ethan Frome does not have enough courage to run away with Mattie. In conclusion, the idea that without courage one will not be able to accomplish certain goals is supported in the novel.

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