Mattie is possibility, while Zeena is reality. When Mattie and Ethan are in danger of being parted, Zeena is the main responsible party. Both Mattie and Zeena view this as a tragic end to their relationship, and in their panic to find a solution, they reverse the trap to become prisoners of their own actions.
The second part of Chapter 9 describes the sleigh accident that resulted in the ultimate tragedy at the end of the book. Zeena had finally had enough of Mattie; a decision culminating when the latter broke one of Zeena's prized dishes. On the day of the accident, Mattie and Ethan meet in the snow to say their final goodbye, but are unable to face the end of their connection. Mattie still feels that she has nowhere to go and nothing that she could do there without Ethan. Ethan on the other hand feels that, while he is trapped by his wife, her health condition will not permit him to leave her to her own devices. Finally, they come to the conclusion that the only possible solution is to commit suicide together. This was to provide them with the freedom to be together without Zeena's constant and judgmental presence. Ethan then convinces Mattie to climb onto the sleigh with him and ride into a tree. This however ends in tragedy, as neither dies, but both are severely injured. Ultimately, both Ethan and Mattie are forced to spend their remaining days with Zeena on the farm. Mattie, being paralyzed from the neck down, has become an embittered old woman, just like Zeena, and Ethan is trapped between the two.
The outcome of the accident is both tragic and ironic. What was to be ultimate freedom became the ultimate trap. Their attempt to obtain ultimate freedom removed all possibilities of a better life or freedom for either Mattie or Ethan. Ironically, there was little to distinguish the "older" Mattie from Zeena. She had become embittered and unhappy because of her condition and her trap. Her physical disability and her proximity to Zeena had removed all joy that she derived from Ethan's presence. In turn, Ethan has also lost all the joy he once had in Mattie's presence. Both Mattie and Zeena had become his trap; a more secure trap than he had ever been subject to during his younger life. The three are therefore securely trapped on the gloomy farm by means of a decision to free all of them. It became a lifelong bondage for all of them.
In this, the representation of Zeena as the trap for Ethan and Mattie's freedom has altered. At the end of the novel, Zeena represents their home, as nothing else is left. Ethan and Mattie are forced to conform to Zeena. Indeed, their decision has turned their own bodies into traps, from which they would never be able to escape. Instead of Zeena, their trap is now represented by themselves and their own foolish decisions. Ironically, Zeena appears to refuse to die, despite her continuous emphasis on her "complications."
Throughout the novel, the reader is therefore led to believe that Ethan's freedom is represented by Mattie, while they are both trapped in their farm life by Zeena. At the end however, the author reveals that they are both trapped by themselves. Their inability to fathom a life apart, even when they write regularly to each other, leads to a foolish and self-destructive decision. Their fate at the end is indeed worse than death, where all three the characters are trapped in a life of forced and unhappy proximity.
Ironically, while Mattie once represented the joy and light in an otherwise gloomy household, she is representative of the Frome home's greatest unhappiness. When they can more her to the parlor in summer months, the author reports that it is "better." When they are all forced together for the fire in the kitchen, is when it is worst.
Finally, one might say that the decision to die did result in a type of death. Physical survival is accompanied by the death not only of love, but also of the dreams of freedom that this love promised. This reduced the two most promising characters in the novel to Zeena's level, and ultimately even lower; life was altered, but not in any…