The major stylistic device used by Ellen Glasgow is the symbolism of autumn rain and falling leaves, which take on different nuances throughout the story. They appear prominently at both beginning and end, enclosing the action in an allusive arch of tone and feeling.
At the outset, the leaves are tied into the annual cycle of year: Their falling signifies the necessity of passing, of the old giving way to the new. Thus autumn reminds Margaret that she too is aging, but she accepts it as the price of her memories and values. This time; however, the fall seems final: Her hopes of continuing happiness have been destroyed.
The image of the leaves recurs at critical points throughout. Margaret’s beauty is passing like the leaves; her spirit has been stricken like the leaves and is driven by the storm. She is pale of complexion, colorless like the fallen leaves; Rose has the blazing glow of youth. Margaret remembers her engagement in a rose garden; now the petals and leaves of that garden are nothing but withered ashes. Her universe is dying down.
The flame of love in Rose’s eyes is likened to the blaze of color in burning leaves. However, her neglected villa is surrounded with heaps of rotting leaves, like grave mounds; George derides her dream that he and Rose had reached a “secret garden of romance” in which he became the “perfect lover.” Both women’s hopes and fantasies are stricken like leaves before George’s selfish brutality. In the end, they have only the leaves.