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Wharton shows the difficulties of repressed and illicit passion, passion without any sanctioned outlet. Ethan has had a loveless marriage, and Mattie Silver has been the catalyst for some very powerful emotions. Passion and "happiness" is blocked by social convention and circumstance. Wharton is a devotee of naturalism, and in many of her novels the environment is the true shaper of men's destinies. Ethan's situation dooms his passion for Mattie Silver. But passion should not necessarily be seen as a potential liberator; in the novel passion seems more like yet another force that robs men of their agency.The result is compromise whichever way Ethan turns.