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Reading Check

Reading Comprehension
1. Marlene Springer writes that “the narrator learns that the ?
of the house, the physical connection between the house and the barn, the
symbolic link with work and nourishment, has been torn from Ethan’s house
and that the farm has deteriorated from his father’s day” (28). Fill in
the ?.

2. Which of the following is Ethan’s age at the time of the

events in the past which are being retold by the narrator: (a) 28 (b) 35
(c) 42 (d) 45 (e) 55?

3. Name one thing — a shared trait or interest, for example —
which connects Ethan to the narrator. Be very specific.

4. What did Zeena do for Ethan which makes it almost inevitable

that he will marry her?

5. How is that Ethan and Mattie are left alone in the house one
wintry night without any possibility of Zeena appearing?

6. What physical contact happens between them on this night

(Question 5)?

7. Wharton writes during Mattie’s and Ethan’s dinner together

that “it seemed. . .as if the shattered fragments of their evening lay
there” (62). What just happened?

8. What is “coasting” in the novel?

9. What stops Ethan from telling the Hales his “story” and

then asking them for the fifty dollar advance so that he can escape with

10. What “vision” — moments before he and Mattie crash into
the elm tree —may have made Ethan swerve, thereby “saving/destroying”
 his life?

11. At the end of the story, which of the three — Zeena, Mattie,
and Ethan — now takes care of the other two?

Questions 12-14 refer to the passage which ends Ethan’s story:

I went after him into a low unlit passage, at the back of which a
ladder-like staircase rose into obscurity. On our right a line of light
marked the door of the room which had sent its ray across the night; and
behind the door I heard a woman’s voice droning querulously.
Fromestamped on the worn oil-cloth to shake the snow from his boots,
and set down his lantern on a kitchen chair which was the only piece of
furniture in the hall. Then he opened the door.
“Come in,” he said; and as he spoke the droning voice grew still.
. .
It was that night that I found the clue to Ethan Frome, and began to
put together this vision of his story (16-17).

12. Characterization. To which character does the “droning

voice” belong?

13. Passage/Symbolism. So begins our journey into Ethan’s past.

What Rites of Passage imagery reinforces that we our crossing the threshold
into chaos?

14. Critical Thinking. Some critics cite this passage as evidence

that the story which follows is actually the narrator’s and not Ethan’s.
In other words, it emerges not out of the past but out of the narrator’s
imagination. What ONE WORD helps supports their argument?

Questions 15-17 refer to the following passage:

Ethan looked at her with loathing. She was no longer the listless
creature who had lived at his side in a state of sullen self-absorption, but
a mysterious alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of
silent brooding. It was the sense of his helplessness that sharpened his
antipathy. There had never been anything in her that one could appeal to;
but as long as he could ignore and command he had remained indifferent. Now
she had mastered him and he abhorred her. Mattie was her relation, no his:
there were no means by which he could compel her to keep the girl under her
roof. All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure,
hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to
take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She
had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing
that made up for all the others. For a moment such a flame of hate rose in
him that it ran down his arm and clenched his fist against her. He took a
wild step forward and then stopped (84-5).

15. Metaphoric Analysis. Within this passage, which word/idea is

repeatedly associated — through Ethan’s feelings — with Zeena?

16. Plot Development. Explain specifically what Zeena has done to

transform her into “a mysterious alien presence”?

17. Metaphoric Analysis. In the opening episode in the past we

are told that the stoves in the “dancehall” were “heaving with volcanic
fires” (18), that Denis Eady’s partner (Mattie, of course) had “caught
his fire” (19), and that Mattie’s arrival was, for Ethan, “like the
lighting of a fire on a cold hearth” (21). How does this relate to the
above passage?
Questions 18-23 refer to the following passage(123-4):

The sky was still thick, but looking straight up he saw a single star,
and tried vaguely to reckon whether it was Sirius, or—or— The effort
tired him too much, and he closed his heavy lids and thought that he would
sleep. . . The stillness was so profound that he heard a little animal
twittering somewhere near byunder the snow. It made a small frightened cheep
like a field mouse, and he wondered languidly if it were hurt. Then he
understood that it must be in pain: pain so excruciating that he seemed,
mysteriously, to feel it shooting through his own body. He tried in vain to
roll over in the direction of the sound, and stretched his left arm out
across the snow. And now it was as though he felt rather than heard the
twittering; it seemed to be under his palm, which rested on something soft
and springy. The thought of the animal’s suffering was intolerable to him
and he struggled to raise himself, and could not because a rock, or some huge
mass, seemed to be lying on him. But he continued to finger about cautiously
with his left hand, thinking he might get hold of the little creature and
help it; and all at once he knew that the soft thing he had touched was
Mattie’s hair and that his hand was on her face.
He dragged himself to his knees, the monstrous load on him moving with
him as he moved, and his hand went over and over her face, and he felt that
the twittering came from her lips . . .
He got his face down close to hers, with his ear to her mouth, and in
the darkness he saw her eyes open and heard her say his name.
“Oh, Matt, I thought we’d fetched it,” he moaned; and far off,
up the hill, he heard the sorrel whinny, and thought: “I ought to be getting
him his feed . . .”
.. . . . . . . . . . .
.. . . . . . . . . . .
.. . . . . . . . . . .
18. Allusion. Siruius is a star of the constellation Canis Major that is
the brightest star in the heavens; it also called the Dog Star. So what is
doing here in this passage?

19. Metaphor. For what might the “monstrous load” be a


20. Irony. Remember the “wreck” in Gatsby. What “irony”

connects them?

21. Metaphoric Analysis. With what is Mattie being associated?

22. Tragedy. What “dream” destroys in Ethan Frome? Be

specific. “The American Dream,” for example, is too vague.

23. Challenge. Explain the significance of the repeated use of

ellipsis (. . . ).

Questions 24-25 refer to the passage which ends Ethan’s story:

The tall woman . . . took no notice; but the other, from her cushioned niche,
answered complainingly, in a high thin voice. . .” (126).

24. Who is the woman in the above passage who answers

“complainingly, in a high thin voice”?

25. Most critics use this passage as an example of the role-

reversal which takes place at the story’s end. Explain.

Questions 26-27 refer to the following passage from Marlene Springer’s

Ethan Frome: A Nightmare of Need:

Throughout her career Wharton struggled with a major question: the seeming

dichotomy between duty and individual happiness. The social system,
including its customs, myths, religions, mores, and rituals, has evolved to
give order to chaos. Social organizations are meant to exert controls over
uninhibited, dangerous passions. Since there is, Wharton believed, no
absolute eternal standard of manners, morals, truth, or beauty, human beings
are defined by their social context and often crushed by the conflict between
hopes and customs (98-99).
26. What is “the crushed hope” in Ethan Frome?

27. What is the “custom” which crushes it?

28. Tragedy. Richard Lawson defines tragedy as the idea that

“some people . . . are fated for suffering” (72). What — and here you
may refer to either an internal character trait or an external worldly
force—makes it so that Ethan is “fated for suffering”?

29. The Myth of Eden. Again, as in many of the texts encountered,

the final image is one of a lost dream, a dream that is often connected to a
dream of Eden. What element of the Eden myth do you see in Ethan Frome?

30. Cool Hand Luke. The Tragic Journey of Escape. The journey of
escape, in literature, leads to greater restriction, a key theme of tragedy.
From what human condition / situation is Ethan on a tragic journey of escape?

31. Of Mice and Men: The Dream of Commitment..For Louis Owens, the
commitment to another embodies the heroic ideal of complete commitment in a
fallen world. Do you see this ideal in any character in Ethan Frome?

32. The Zimmer Hypothesis. In Ethan and Mattie, we glimpse a

couple bound by an ideal love. What worldly “evil” dooms it to failure?

33. What hope might there be at the end of Ethan Frome? “Noneâ€
 gets you zero credit.

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