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Free Study Guide-Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton-Free Book Summary Notes
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CHAPTER 7

Notes

The plot advances in this chapter, but also there are some added storytelling elements. Zeena's behavior over food, at first refusing any and then gorging herself, is intentionally comic to lighten the tension at the end of the chapter. She also resorts to sarcasm when she comments that her cat must be awfully smart to pick up the pieces of a broken dish. Finally, it is ironic that the broken red pickle-dish becomes a symbol of broken hearts.

Ethan is pushed to his emotional limits in this chapter. He is financially strapped, as evidenced earlier in the book, and now Zeena insists on having hired help. He tells her he simply cannot afford it, and she tries to make him feel ashamed. Then she reminds him that they will be saving money since Mattie will no longer be with them. Ethan freezes; he cannot believe his ears. His worst fear is coming to pass. He tries to argue against it, but Zeena is unrelenting. Ethan feels stripped of his masculinity and powerless against his evil wife. He moves towards her, as if to inflict violence, but catches himself and leaves the room.


It is important to notice that the fight between the couple has taken place in the "master" bedroom, clearly the domain of Zeena. It is here that she retreats to nurse her illnesses, and here that she feels most comfortable and in control. It is the perfect setting for her to deal Ethan a blow, for he does not stand a chance against her here. In fact, she conquers him completely, and he slinks out of the bedroom, a defeated man. From the bedroom, he goes to the kitchen, which has become Mattie's domain. In contrast to the cold, hard bedroom, the kitchen is a place of warmth that offers Ethan some happiness.

Emotionally out of control, Ethan grabs Mattie when he enters the kitchen and kisses her in a quite unromantic fashion. He also blurts out the news, in a very unkind way, that Mattie is being sent away. He is beside himself, and Mattie tries to comfort him. Both are fighting back tears. Ironically, Zeena enters the kitchen, a picture of calmness and resolve. She is feeling much better and now wants some dinner. As she eats heartily, she smiles and hypocritically makes small-talk with Mattie. She is in total control and flaunts it. After dinner, she complains of heartburn, blames it on Mattie's pie, and leaves to take some medicine. In a few moments, she rushes back in a fury of emotion. She has found the broken pickle dish and demands an explanation. When Mattie admits her guilt, Zeena chastises her, calling her a bad girl and expressing regret over taking her in. After sobbing wildly, Zeena walks out with the broken dish, treating it like a dead body.

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