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Plot in Ethan Frome

Plot Examples in Ethan Frome:

Chapter IV

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" turning “queer.”..."   (Chapter IV)

While today the term “queer” has a different meaning, in this story it most likely means “unwell.” Ethan uses the word to describe Zeena’s state of mind in comparison to his mother’s towards the end of his mother’s illness. His mother “fell silent,” but not due to the physical effects of her illness—she simply chose not to. Ethan compares this silence to the winter and the loneliness of Starkfield farm life and thus, worries that Zeena is “turning queer.” However, note that Zeena states that she is quiet because Ethan does not listen to her.

"sharp scent of the geraniums..."   (Chapter V)

Recall that Ethan planted the geraniums in order to “make a garden for Mattie” and that we can consider the garden as symbolic of the Garden of Eden. After Ethan notes the smell of the geraniums in the room, “all constraint vanished” between Ethan and Mattie. Their conversation flows more easily after the geraniums are mentioned, and they both feel a sense of ease.

"Wrath and dismay contended in Ethan. He had foreseen an immediate demand for money, but not a permanent drain on his scant resources...."   (Chapter VII)

Ethan has been concerned with money since his wife mentioned the possibility of surgery. Ethan stated earlier that he was thankful, due to “motives of economy,” that Zeena dismissed the idea of medical operations because she believed them to be “indelicate.” Here, Ethan is still extremely concerned about finances, but we get the overwhelming sense that he resents Zeena for the potential expense. Ethan “no longer believed what Zeena had told him of the supposed seriousness of her state” but instead “saw it as a plot” to “foist on him the cost of a servant” that could aid Zeena in her sickness.

"People struggled on for years with “troubles,” but they almost always succumbed to “complications...."   (Chapter VII)

Ethan suggests that Zeena started using the term “complications” to describe the extent of her sickliness from the medical advice she was given. Until this point, Zeena has been told that she has “troubles” rather than “complications,” which Ethan explains is not a step in the right direction. He says that when a doctor tells someone that they have “complications,” it is a basically a “death-warrant.” This wording is ultimately what drives Ethan to believe that Zeena is not exaggerating about her bad health anymore.

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