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Symbols in Ethan Frome

Sex, lies and deceit. These three things are what this novel is about. But it is so much more than that.

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In the book Ethan Frome, written by Edith Wharton, the author uses symbolism to represent many things such as death. Symbols such as Zeena’s red pickle dish, the cold season of winter, and the dead cucumber vine all represent important parts that make up this novel. Zeena’s red pickle dish is a dish Zeena treasures most. She received the pickle dish as a wedding present and only uses the dish on special occasions. Mattie uses the pickle dish the night her and Ethan are alone, while Zeena is out of town.

The cat accidently breaks the dish during the dinner. “…And gathering up the bits of broken glass she went out of the room as if she carried a dead body” (Wharton 66). At this point, Zeena was really mad when she found out herself that the dish was broken and no one told her. This gave her another reason to hate Ethan and Mattie even more. The dish breaking symbolizes the marriage between Ethan and Zeena was now broken. Ethan Frome takes place in Starkfield, Massachusetts during the cold winter months. Winter controls over the tragedy in all its signs of snow, wind, cold and darkness.

Winter is the worst season for Ethan. In the beginning, Harmon Gow had said, “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters. Most of the smart ones get away” (Wharton 2). Ethan studied science and technology after high school, but after his father died and his mother became sick, he was forced to come back to his hometown of Starkfield. Responsibility for his mother and poverty has prevented him from leaving. Sadly, Ethan’s mother died in the winter. After his mother’s death, Ethan married Zeena because he was so lonely all the time.

Winter is symbolizes isolation and loneliness. Last but not least, the dead cucumber vine. “A dead cucumber vine dangled from the porch like the crape streamer tied to the door for a death, and the thought flashed through Ethan’s brain: “If it was there for Zeena-” (Wharton 26). Ethan wished Zeena was dead. If Zeena was not alive, Ethan could be with Mattie and they both would be happy together. They wouldn’t have to hide their love for each other. The dead cucumber vine symbolizes death and also symbolizes dying souls that live in the Frome’s house.

In this case is Zeena, who is the slowly dying soul living in the house because of her illness. Zeena’s red pickle dish, winter, and the dead cucumber vine are all important symbols in this novel. Understanding these symbols make this novel more interesting now that one knows what some objects symbolizes. Such as Zeena’s pickle dish, the broken dish is a symbol for the shattering of Ethan and Zeena’s marriage. The winter represents loneliness. The dead cucumber represents death. These three things best represent the story of Ethan Frome.