Ethan Frome - Moral and Ethical Issues
Life is about making choices, we all make different choices however the choices we make are restricted. Some of the restrictions can come from moral and ethical issues. Even though Ethan Frome is not a novel written about morality however moral and ethical issues are a key component of the novel, because it affects the characters and it affects how they live their lives.
First of all the moral and ethical issues in Ethan Frome are actually derived from the personal experience of Edith Wharton. She is known to have had affairs during her marriage and her marriage was a disasterAfter 28 years of unhappy marriage, Wharton divorced him. (-B. Wineapple), from this quotation we can also see that her marriage was in a similar state as Ethan and Zeenas. This experience allows Wharton to have a better understanding of what she writes and it allows her to better use moral and ethical issues to develop Ethan Frome.
The most important moral and ethical issues Wharton has used to develop Ethan Frome are the rights to happiness and the fulfillment of personal desire. In the novel it is very apparent that Ethan is happy with Mattie:He had a confused sense of being in another world, where all was warmth and harmony and time could bring no change. (P.59) and he longs to be with her but he is restricted by his commitment to his marriage and his obligations towards Zeena. There is a clear conflict between Ethans right to happiness and his responsibilities. The whole novel basically revolves around the issue of right to happiness because it is constantly focusing on the events that happen between Mattie and Ethan and how they want to be together but for specific reasons they could not But with Mattie depending on him the case was different, and what of Zeenas fate? (P.88). In contrast of being happy with Mattie, it is also very conspicuous in the novel that Ethan is unhappy with Zeena. In Ethans opinion Zeenawas a hundred times bitterer and more discontented than when he had married her. (P.87) But he cannot just divorce her because Even if she were in better health than she imagined, could never carry such a burden alone. (P.88). Here Wharton questioned the moral issue of should Ethan divorce Zeena and go pursue his own happiness: Maybe both of us will do better separate. (P.88).
Throughout Ethan Frome, Wharton has also used the moral conflict between personal wants, and social obligations to develop the story. The moral conflicts and issues limit the choices made by the characters. Ethans fathers death had put a premature end to Ethans studies. (P.19) From this quotation we can see that Ethan is restricted to making the choice of caring for the family farm instead of his personal want of continuing education. Ethan is also restricted in making the choice to leave Zeena, For Ida been ashamed to tell him that you grudged me the money to get back my health, when I lost it nursing your own mother! (P.74) because he feels like he is obligated and in-debt towards her
Wharton has set Ethan Frome in the early 20th century, during that time people were not as open to sexual affairs as now. As we know that Ethan longs to be with Mattie, this does not only deal with the moral issue of rights to happiness but it also leads to the issue of having affairs. Ethan has had the choice of choosing to stay loyal to his marriage or have an affair with Mattie, later on in the novel Ethan chose to have an affair with her he held her in a fast rapture of surprise. (P.109) However at the end they were not able to be together. Wharton has used the setting to help emphasize the consequences of them not being able to be together mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe. (P.10)
Ethan Frome also touches on the grave, imperative moral and ethical issue of suicide:Right into the big elm. You said you could. So t wed never have to leave each other anymore. (P.110). The love between Ethan and Mattie has developed to a level that they cannot bear to be separated and when Zeena had decided that Mattie must go, Mattie and Ethan cannot withstand to be without each other. Whats the good of either of us going anywheres without the other one? (P.110) Wharton has used the characters decision of suicide to show the extent of theyre love and the extreme level they are willing to take it to, Id amost rather have you dead than that. (P.106) Suicide is basically Mattie and Ethans last hope of being together and is also the climax of the novel however is not an unexpected event. Wharton has constantly used foreshadowing: Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum came just as near running into the big elm at the bottom. (P.31) earlier on in the story to build up to it.
Another moral and ethical issue used to develop Ethan Frome is the issue of deceiving somebody for personal benefits. We can see that Ethan has made this excuseId take you over myself, only Ive got to collect the cash for the lumber. (P.43, Ethan) in order to be able to stay alone with Mattie. As soon as the words were spoken he regretted them, not only because they untrue-there being no prospect of his receiving cash payment from Hale (P.43) From this quotation we can see that not only is it a excuse but it is also a lie. Even though deceiving Andrew Hale might seem as a less significant moral issue than the other ones included but nonetheless it helps to develop the character of Ethan. Even though Ethan had the opportunity to deceive Andrew Hale but he could not make himself to do it, this shows his integrity and some of the values he possesses. This incident has also helped to show the desperateness of Ethan trying to create opportunities to be with Mattie: All his thoughts were on the prospect of his evening with Mattie. (P.49)
In conclusion Wharton has used moral and ethical issues from her own personal experience to develop Ethan Frome. They are very important in Ethan Frome because they have been integrated into the plot, they are part of the story and because they affect the choices made by the characters.