Ethan Frome, the classic novel written by Edith Wharton contains a great amount of symbolism. The symbolism allows the characters to express themselves more clearly to the reader. It brings incidents and personalities together in meaning. The story’s symbolic events is what pulls characters together in time of need.
Starkfield Massachusetts is a boring cold farm town. People become very ill there from the terribly harsh winters. Winter greatly affects the actions and behaviors of the characters. No quote better describes the harsh winters of Starkfield, and the effect that it had on the townspeople, than the following:
“When I had been there a little longer, and had seen this phase of crystal clearness followed buy long stretches of sunless cold; when the storms of February had pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of March winds had charged down o their support; I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months’ siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter.” (7)
Another truly symbolic point of the story is the Elm tree. The Elm tree symbolizes the end and the escape of two lives. Even though Mattie an Ethan were not killed by the sled crash, that was their purpose. The Elm tree also symbolizes strength and courage. After the crash, the Elm tree was still standing, while Ethan and Mattie were terribly injured. If Ethan was a stronger person he would not have crashed into the tree with Mattie. He would have had the strength to say “no” in the first place. Zeena who was once a hypochondriac, recovered, and now she takes care of Mattie and Ethan.
“It was a miracle, considering how sick she was-but she seemed to be raised right up just when the call came to her.” (131)
The incident with the red dish is the most symbolic event in the story. The red dish was a wedding present given to Zeena by one of her relatives. When the red dish broke, it symbolized the breaking of Ethan’s heart when he found out that Zeena wanted Mattie to leave. Zeena never used the dish, she kept it in the closet. One day when Zeena went to get her medicine, she discovered that dish was broken, and that someone attempted to glue it back together.
“The cat had jumped from Zeena’s chair to dart a mouse in the wainscot, and as a result of the sudden movement the empty chair had set up a spectral rocking.” (70)
Ethan Frome contains many symbolic events. The most symbolic event of all was the breaking of the red dish. The Elm tree, coldness of Starkfield, and the red dish all complement the characters and their personalities. The symbolism in Ethan Frome makes the reader search for a deeper meaning.