The story is set in a fictional, wintry New England town named Starkfield, where an unnamed narrator tells the story of his encounter with Ethan Frome, a man with dreams and desires that end in an ironic turn of events. The narrator tells the story based on an account from observations at Frome\'s house when he had to stay there during a winter storm. Ethan’s character is one that comes full circle, moving from silent desire to action to quiet submission, ordered by life’s circumstances.
Ethan Frome is described as “the most striking figure in Starkfield” ; “he was but the ruin of a man,” with a “careless powerful look in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain”. Frome\'s wife is the “sickly, cantankerous” Zeena. He is her sole caregiver until her young and beautiful cousin, Mattie Silver, arrives to help with housekeeping. Ethan is taken in by Mattie’s youthful beauty and good humor, but his interest in Mattie does not go unnoticed by Zeena. In fact, when she realizes Ethan and Mattie’s mutual attraction, she plans to hire someone less attractive and to have Mattie sent away.