In Ethan Frome, what are the meanings of the symbols of the town name, gravestones, shutterless windows, dead cucumber vine, cat, red scarf?

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Consider how many of these are representative of death -- the gravestones, the broken down house, and the dead vine are obvious, plus we know from reading that the elm tree and the final sled run are intended for Ethan and Mattie's death, but they are only crippled in the end.  As for things that are crippled, look at the broken down house and shutterless windows -- the physical space of Ethan is broken, just like his body is broken.  All of this is set in place whose name couldn't be more indicative of Ethan's life -- it is a stark (cold, barren, plain) field (space, life).  The kitchen and the cat in particular represent Zeena who is the omnipresent hold over Ethan due his sense of duty and obligation.  Red traditionally signifies love, life, passion and the like.  The red items are special, and used by Mattie, who represents the possibility of life and love for Ethan.  This novel is full of symbols and they frequently can be connected to other symbols like done above.

sarahsmilesalot | Student

In the first two sentences of chapter one, The village lay under two feet of snow, with drifts at the windy corners. In a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fires," Edith Wharton has portrayed the barron landscape and dismal lives of the town and people of "Starkfied."  Vivid sparks of red appear throughout the story; geraniums, a pickel dish, Mattie's scarf and hair ribbons, in stark contrast to the dead cucumber vine, the breaking of the picket dish, and the outcome of the final sled run.  'Orion flashed his cold fires' (an oxymoron worth remembering) and death might have been preferable to that which passed as Ethan Frome's life.

amarantha | Student

the name of the town- its pretty much the title, stark and emptiness (field)

gravestones- "I don't see's there's much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; 'cept that down there they're all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues." (the end of the book)

missing L- diminished home; lack of life in the Frome farmhouse "i saw then that the unusually forlorn and stunted look of the house was partly due to the loss of the 'L'"

shurtterless windows- (just guessing) darkness, despair; poverty

dead cucumber vine- "a dead cucumber vine dangled from the porch like the crape streamer tied to the door for a death" forshadows death

kitchen (not sure) seeking comfort; dreams

cat- Zeena's ally; ruin for Ethan + Mattie's relationship

red pickle dish- symbolizes Frome's marriage and Ethan and Mattie's loyalty to Zeena- it is ruined

red scarf and ribbon- life, happiness; and lust i think

elm tree- Ethan + Mattie's relationship- passionate yet dangerous

final sled run- coasting through life; Ethan not able to be decisive

this is the first time ive answered a question on this site haha. i hope it helps =)

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Ethan Frome

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