Ethan Frome is a limping, quiet old man, a local fixture of the community, and a lifelong resident of the town of Starkfield, Massachusetts. When an unnamed narrator comes to spend a winter in Starkfield, he is curious to learn more about Frome. He learns that Frome's limp arose from having been injured in a ”smash-up” twenty-four years before, but further details are not forthcoming. He also finds out that Frome's attempt at higher education decades before was thwarted by the sudden illness of his father following an injury, forcing his return to the farm to assist his parents, never to leave again. Because people seem not to wish to speak other than in vague and general terms about Frome's past, the narrator's curiosity grows. Chance circumstances arise that allow the narrator to hire Frome as his driver for a week. A severe snowstorm during one of their journeys forces Frome to allow the narrator to shelter at his home one night, and he digs a little deeper in the past.