Husband to Zeena. Ethan pursued studies in science and technology very briefly after high school, but his father's death and his mother's illness forced him back to the Frome farm. Poverty and responsibility have prevented him from leaving Starkfield. After his mother's death, he hastily married Zeena out of loneliness; she quickly became as sickly and silent as his mother had been. Ethan is stirred back to life by the arrival of Mattie Silver, Zeena's cousin.
By the time the narrator meets Ethan, he is the "ruin of a man." Lame, grizzled, and bearing a tortured expression on his face, the old Frome fascinates the narrator, who sets out to learn his story.
The first-person narrator of the opening and Chapter 10. He is nameless and his gender is never specified, although we can probably assume from his work and the time of the novel (early 20th century) that he is male. He meets Ethan Frome twenty-four years after Frome's "smash-up," and Frome immediately fascinates him. He collects bits and pieces of Frome's story from the people around town. By chance, Ethan Frome ends up being the narrator's sleigh driver for a week, and during a storm the narrator is forced to take refuge in Frome's house. In the house, the narrator feels he finally gets the clue to understanding Ethan Frome's tragedy, and he presents his vision of Frome's story.
Ethan's sickly, hypochondriac wife. Years ago, while Ethan's mother was dying, Zeena came to help care for her. After the death of Ethan's mother, Ethan could not bear the thought of being alone in winter at the Frome farm. He asked Zeena to marry him. They had plans to leave Starkfield, but within a short time Zeena became sickly and difficult. She speaks in a flat whine, and although she is only seven years older than Ethan, she is described as already being an old woman.
Zeena's cousin. An orphan and a pauper, Mattie came to the Frome farm to be Zeena's help. She also has nowhere else to go. With her sweet disposition, charm, and beauty, she brings life back into the Frome farm. Ethan falls in love with her, but he does not know if the feelings are reciprocated.
The hired man at the Frome farm.
Née Ruth Varnum. The widow of Ned Hale, she is known around town as old Mrs. Ned Hale. The narrator lodges with her, and at the end of the novel she is given the closing line. In her youth, she was friends with Mattie Silver and Ethan Frome. He father was a lawyer, but the family fortunes have gone into decline.
Carriage driver. He is one of the narrator's first sources of information on Frome.
In the narrator's time, he is a wealthy grocer. In the earlier time of the novel's main events, he is a womanizing and smug young man.
Ethan Frome Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ethan Frome is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The red scarf Mattie wears at the dance and later at the farmhouse represent youthful passion that Ethan is missing from his life. It represents light in Ethan's life in a sea of grey that is Ethan's reality.
Zeena is a hypochondriac who needs to control the men in her life. Not only does she control Ethan but she seeks to control the successive doctors that she brings her myriad of ailments to. At home Zeena tends to be cold and indifferent to...