Symbols used in "Ethan Frome" by Edith Warton

Essay by NoTTiNzZz December 2004

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Edith Warton's work, Ethan Frome, is an ironic book with naturalist ideas. Ethan Frome, the protagonist, has a secret love affair with Mattie, his wife's cousin. Mattie has come to assist the Frome family with their domestic affairs. Zeena, Ethan's hypochondriac wife, detects Ethan's love for Mattie. She decides to send Mattie away in exchange for a hired servant that will attend to Zeena's sickness. On the day of Mattie's department, Ethan decides to take Mattie the long way to the train station. Not wanting to leave Ethan's side, Mattie asks Ethan to sled down the hill with her into the elm tree. It would ultimately end their lives but, the story takes an ironic twist. They both survive the accident and spend the rest of their lives in misery. Throughout this exceptional book, there are many symbols to further enhance the reader's undestanding of the book.

One major symbol would be the use of red on Mattie Silver. In chapter one, Mattie is at a dance and Ethan is watching her every move from a nearby window. Edith Warton describes Mattie as "a girl who had already wound a cherry-coloured "fascinator" about her head" and having a "cherry-coloured scarf." And in chapter four, the use of red appears again when Mattie opens the door for Ethan. Mattie's head consisted of "a streak of crimson ribbon." Red symbolizes love, warmth, good health, and vitality. Mattie displays such characteristics throughout the book. Red also symbolizes sin, adultery, and transgression. It alludes to the "Scarlet Letter." Mattie is like Hester Prynne. Mattie tempts Ethan to do evil and betray society's law of not committing adultery. The color red also stands out in the white landscape of Starkfield. In a similar way, Mattie stands out in Starkfield to Ethan. Without the...