His concerns about money further emphasize his complete helplessness when taking chances; unlike him, Mattie’s father escaped rural Massachusetts although “he had died too soon to prove that the end justifies the means”, yet Ethan’s typical New England rigid code of ethics restrains him from looking after his own interests. After all, he agreed to marry Zeena only because of the fear of loneliness and silence he took after his mother.
The tranquility of the landscape contrasts with his emotional struggles as if nature were indifferent to human suffering: when Zeena insinuates that the villagers are talking about his affair, he can’t bear the thought of being considered immoral by his community, even if morality costs him his happiness.
The sled ride, which goes wherever the snowy course takes it, is the perfect ultimate metaphor for Ethan’s life: nothing more than his failure to take control over his own existence, agreeing that real death is eventually preferable to the living one he shares with Zeena. By the end he cannot maintain his focus and gets distracted by outside forces: the horse that reminds him of the neglected duties in life and at the farm. Here the naturalist theme is further highlighted by the symbolical presence of the stars: by moving in prescribed arcs across the sky, they represent the idea that fate and life are predetermined and stand against the belief according to human beings are responsible for the course of their life and can influence their fate by choosing to act. Ethan was caught between these views and just as he failed to achieve anything in life, he fails to commit suicide. By never making a choice, either to break free from the rules of society and go off with her lover or to give up his dreams and submit to social expectations, he succeeded in destroying everything.
Mattie too accepts her destiny passively; in spite of his romanticism, Ethan’s claims for powerlessness sound hollow, and even Mattie realizes it: though she believes Ethan has been good to her, he more than anyone has been the source of her troubles. Her refusal to consider asking her father’s acquaintances for help proves the shame and her resignation to the terrible (and possibly degrading) fate she believes awaits her. Being pretty, as Charity Royall in Summer will demonstrate, is not enough to guarantee a young woman a reputable social position.
Similarly to Ethan Frome, Summer doesn’t challenge the assumption that social class determines personality and place in the world, it simply shows what happens in a world where this is assumed to be true.
Regarded by Wharton herself as “Hot Ethan”, the seasonal imagery is emblematic of what happens in Charity’s first taste of the life she had so desperately dreamt of, going from a glittering and sultry summer promise to a fading and withering fall reality. During summer, the metaphor for youth, Charity is initially confident she can do whatever she pleases without the approval of society and accepts the ideology according to which her worth depends on how she appears to men, holding the internalized belief that the world can be read in its appearance, therefore limiting her judgments of people on what they look like and not their very essence, exemplified by her willingness to change her aspect only for men she deems worthy of that.