Ethan’s tragic flaw is his lack of initiative – his inability to take action in unfavorable circumstances

The story Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is a remarkable manifestation of feelings limited upon unfavorable circumstances while the passion of the main characters springs up eventually.  There is a point to say that the novel provides a special look at the figure of the protagonist.  The title itself makes a reader recognize where the truth of the Frome’s nature lies.  On the other hand, it is a symbolic shape by the author to recognize and further delve into the world of Ethan Frome.  Hence, Ethan’s tragedy describes him, as a man unable to provide particular initiatives of taking action in order to overcome difficulties in the relationships with Mattie.

There is plenty to talk about the figures of a man and a woman associated with a deep love having no escape inside them.  Definitely, it is all about Ethan and Mattie.  To omit the yoke of marriage by simply following some intimate feelings toward a woman is a challenge indeed.  It gets especially complicated when such an object of a man’s affections is a cousin of his wife.  Things become really complicated.

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Ethan’s affection cannot be underestimated.  He falls in love with Mattie, but he shows it insincerely or as that lacking the action.  One of the episodes describes his feelings as if it seems to Ethan “that his heart is bound with cords which an unseen hand is tightening with every tick of the clock” (Wharton 92).  Thus, he is readymade to break the ice and, finally, to cross the border in their relationships with Mattie.  However, he keeps it until the moment comes.  No wonder, this moment is tragic and fatal for both lovers, but it gives no efficiency. 

Suppose, Ethan is a full-hearted man who knows how to treat a lady even if it seems prohibited de facto and legal de jure.  He is likely to win the race in their warm feelings with Mattie.  Alas, the story keeps track of how indecisively Ethan behaves.  He is largely disoriented about what he is about to do and what he is supposed to do.  Even though Mattie does not pay much attention to this feature of Ethan, it definitely gives grounds for procrastination in everything they agree to do.  When Mattie tells him that it is time to act and commit a suicide pact, Ethan pretends to get no idea of what she means and just groans (Wharton 102).  The question is that he does it undoubtedly sincere. 

Ethan’s flaw is inevitable.  His destiny is a result of his poor or incomplete actions.  As a matter of fact, taking care of Mattie in a proper way, he cannot get an idea of how to assist her, as a man.  His tragedy is that he chooses an extreme method to tighten their hearts together in an everlasting ensemble.  However, this trick fails to come true. 

The symbolic implementation is masterly used by the author to show the characters in their insightful and full-of-passion images.  Thus, when Ethan looks at the red sun over the sky and darkness of the fields, he reminds: “This is Matt’s last day” (Wharton 85).  Red is a color to symbolize Mattie in her womanhood.  Once again, Ethan has no idea of how to act in order to stop his and her inner pain.  Zeena’s requirement divides Mattie with Ethan into a seemingly long distance.  Needless to say, Ethan takes a notice of what his wife asks him to do, as if she does not know anything about his with Mattie possibility of adultery. 

Difference between Mattie and Zeena

It is clear that Mattie is more vital and full of energy to love someone with the bottom of her heart, than Zeena is.  With his indecisiveness at hand, Ethan cannot fail to mention it in her eyes at a glance.  In fact, he is not the man Zeena needs indeed.  It is distinctively outlined in the book that she needs “the help of a stronger arm than the one which lies so lightly in his during the night walks to the farm” (Wharton 25).  Ethan’s flow to making something insane characterizes him as one who fails to meet his wife’s expectations.  Conversely, he is not that strong to break up.  The dominant part in the family still refers to “sickly” Zeena (Wharton 25).

Turning back, Ethan’s flaw to commit a stupidity comes into changing his and Mattie’s parties with that of Zeena, as they become crippled and paralyzed respectively.  It goes without saying that Ethan’s tragedy starts off when he refuses to provide focal initiatives toward Mattie in order to come up with the mutual decision.  He hesitates too much to make a right decision.  Thus, he goes awry undoubtedly.  He cannot exculpate himself for the actions he does, as he stays the same thereafter, the physical tragedy coming closer to him in alliance with Mattie.

Mattie herself cannot help getting a right decision as for Ethan’s flaw to fail.  She seems “to feel contagion of his embarrassment” (Wharton 54).  It is seen, as her inability to prevent herself from oblivion.  Ethan is a man, one who is to take timely decisions and change the situation for better.  This is the idea of a woman’s intention while thinking of a man she feels for.  There is a point to designate Ethan’s character, as a man who is still in search for his identity in life.  


By the way, the town where Ethan lives, Starkfield, strangles him much in order not to reveal his genuine nature of a loving and passionate man.  There are several episodes in the book where the bad luck of the town puts its dwellers into troubles: “And the dwellers in Starkfield, as in more notable communities, have had troubles enough of their own to make them comparatively indifferent to those of their neighbors” (Wharton 10).  There is no salvation for Ethan in his actions, as he is supposed to stick into the town forever, even though he makes great pains to omit his bad luck by dint of a suicide pact.

Starkfield is symbolically described to be associated with Ethan Frome.  There is a direct notion of what one should know about this very town: “If you know Starkfield, Massachusetts, you know the post-office.  If you know the post-office, you must have seen Ethan Frome drive up to it” (Wharton 5)…  However hard his pain is, Ethan realizes deep in his soul that he cannot escape from the reality of his family life.  To make plain, it is his fault that he is still unhappy and will leave so till his dying day.  There is a trap for him which has been done by himself initially without making sense of how to win the battle in his heart.  He arrives at the sad conclusion that he introduces Zeena and Mattie at the end of the book as follows: “This is my wife, Mis’ Frome…And this is Miss Mattie Silver” (Wharton 107).

To conclude, Ethan Frome’s tragic flaw is in his lack of initiative.  His fate overwhelms his light and indecisive character full of incomplete intentions to reveal his genuine feelings toward Mattie, the object of his affections.  Thus, Ethan falls into oblivion, as a character to find no way out in his love due to his flaw as of inability to take action.

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