The critic Elizabeth Ammons considers Ethan Frome to be a modern version of the fairy story Snow White. She draws attention to Mattie's young and beautiful appearance, the imagery of the frozen landscape, her role as household drudge, to say nothing of her persecution by the witch-like Zeena, which boasts evident parallels in the traditional fairy tale illustrating a little girl’s life whose jealous stepmother does her best to keep her from maturing into a healthy, marriageable young female. Supporting such an interpretation is the fact that Zeena possesses a cat, acting as her own agent when she’s away. The animal is used to jumping between Mattie and Ethan and breaking the pickle dish. However, Zeena blames Mattie for this. Witches often boasted their companion animals, such as cats, whose bodies their owners would borrow just to travel about and act unnoticed.
The difference between Wharton's inverted fairy tale and the traditional fairy tale is that in Wharton's tale, that’s the witch who wins. This victory is amplified by the failed suicide attempt, transforming Mattie into a sort of mirror image of Zeena. Ammons stresses that witches multiply and not just win in Wharton's modern fairy story.
Ammons doesn’t agree with those critics who consider Ethan Frome to be without moral content. She’s assured that the novel comes with a powerful moral message as the fairy tales from which it gets inspiration. It’s a message of social criticism. From Ammons’ point o view, the moral can be defined in the following way. Well, as long as females are kept dependent and isolated, Mattie Silvers will become Zeena Fromes. She tells that Wharton's intention to cripple Mattie, though not to let her die clearly reflects not the author's cruelty, though but the culture's. Without a family or marketable skills, Ammons is assured that Mattie's fate turns to be inevitably one of poverty, shattered dreams, not to mention premature ageing. The accident only accelerates the process, thus sparing Mattie the gradual slide into queerness, which Ethan saw in Zeena as well as his mother.
By the way, Ethan Frome reflects rather than inverts one fairy tale tradition, that we could dub “the malevolent benefactor”, where a wicked fairy or witch grants one's wishes, although the outcome turns out to be a curse. Really, it’s not a blessing. As today’s truism states, one needs to be careful with what he or she wishes. It’s because it might be obtained. Ethan and Mattie aren’t eager to be parted, and their wish turns to be granted.
The critic Elizabeth Ammons considers Ethan Frome to be a modern version of the fairy story Snow White.