“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light. ” Albert Schweitzer. Ethan Frome who takes care of his ill wife becomes very attracted with his wife’s sister and must choose whether or not to express his feelings. Individual responsibility is the obstacle when dealing with ones free will. This will be shown by analyzing, Ethan’s choices of individual responsibility and free will. Ethan, from Starkfield New England is a poor farmer who is taking care of his ill wife Zeena. “Zeena had always been what Starkfield had called “sickly” ” (pg 35).
She suffered from asthma and other complications. “People struggled for years with “troubles”, but they always succumbed to “complications” ” (pg 108. ) Ethan felt it was his obligation to take care of his ill wife as they had been married for seven years. “When they married they agreed as soon as he could straighten out the difficulties, he would sell the farm and saw mill and try their luck in a large town” (pg 71). It was believed that her sickness was derived from the “effect of life on the farm, or perhaps, as she sometimes said, it was because Ethan “never listened” ” (pg 72).
Due to this Ethan felt it was his responsibility to take care of his wife. Zeena had been trying hard to get help as she occasionally left town to seek medical assistance. Ethan had “grown to dread these situations because of their cost” (pg. 62). Zeena had always returned with expensive remedies that were promising but never ended up working. Ethan felt his commitment of marriage was enough for him to believe that it was possible for his wife to re-cooperate from her illness and return to a normal life.
While Ethan was taking care of Zeena, it was suggested that they should acquire more assistance due to his wife’s health. “Mattie Silver came from Stamford, and when she entered the Fromes’ household to act as her cousin Zeena’s aid it was thought best, as she came without pay” (pg 32). Ethan “had taken a liking to the girl from the first day” (pg 32). Mattie took pressure and stress of Ethan’s workload and everyday chores and basically rekindled his spirit of love. “It was a fact since Mattie Silver’s coming he had taken to shaving every day” (pg 39).
They both had gained strong feelings for each other but did not want or feel it was right for them to be expressed. One day however when walking back home from the village Mattie stumbled on an unseen object and clutched onto Ethan’s sleeve to steady herself. “The wave of warmth that went through him was like the prolongation of his vision. For the first he stole his arm about, and she did not resist” (pg 50). From that point on the both of them became more fond of each other and showed their feelings more openly to each other.
One day when Zeena left town for medical reasons Mattie had attempted to do something special for Ethan by preparing him a special meal. To be used in this special meal was Zeena’s pickle dish, which was only used on special occasions. Sitting at dinner the cat had “backed into pickle dish, which fell to the floor with a crash” (pg 85). This can be seen as the couples dream falling to pieces and not being able to be repaired as the next night Zeena had returned and she ordered that Mattie leave as Zeena required someone with medical experience.
When Ethan and Zeena confronted each other “it was the first sign of open anger between the couple in the sad seven years together” (pg 112). He could not picture himself living without Mattie and had to choose whether or not to stay with his wife or follow his heart and go with Mattie. Ethan could not exercise his free will and be with Mattie as his individual responsibility was dealing with that of Zeena which he felt he could not abandon. Ethan had always wanted the best for his wife Zeena but she would have to come to the realization that ” you’re a poor man’s wife” (pg 114).
It would be impossible for him to hire a trained medical aid as the funds just were not there. Ethan felt his free will was put to the test when Zeena had ordered that Mattie leave. Ethan than realized that he could not live with out her. The night when Ethan escorts Mattie to town to catch her train they think of the idea of leaving and going West. Ethan had always dreamed of the idea but came to the conclusion that he could not leave his ill wife. “I’m tied hand and foot, Matt. There isn’t a thing that I can do” (pg 158).
Before they departed Ethan wanted to do one more thing Mattie and that was take her coasting or tobogganing. While tobogganing Ethan had came into confusion as a suicide pact was suggested as they went for their last turn down the hill. They were attempting to hit a huge Elm tree but right before they hit Ethan had suddenly seen his “wife’s face with twisted monstrous lineaments, thrust itself between him and his goal, and he made an instinctive movement to brush it aside” (pg 170).
which caused Ethan to just hit the tree ever so slightly not to kill them but to injure them severely. Ethan’s feels his individual responsibility to Zeena must be taken care of first before he can have any life with Mattie. It is important that one’s individual responsibility is taking care of first before attempting to pursue ones free will as it will cause a major obstacles and conflicts if striving to make the both co-exist. Ethan’s problem of choosing who he loved could have been resolved if he stuck with his individual responsibility and helped his wife back to good health.