Unpacking the Symbolism: What Does the Pickle Dish Symbolize in Ethan Frome?

Have you ever read a book and found yourself yearning to uncover its hidden meanings? Well, that’s precisely the case with Ethan Frome, a novella by Edith Wharton. One of the significant symbols in this book is the pickle dish. While it may appear insignificant at first glance, the pickle dish holds great significance in the inner workings of the plot.

As the story goes, the pickle dish belongs to Zeena, Ethan Frome’s wife. Supposedly, it is priceless to her, and Ethan is warned never to touch it. However, after a few events that take place in the story, the pickle dish does get touched, and tragic consequences follow. So, what exactly does the pickle dish symbolize? Well, it is a representation of the disintegrating Frome family and the destruction of their romantic affair.

Throughout Ethan Frome, the pickle dish appears in several scenes, with Wharton using it to signify the deteriorating marriage between Zeena and Ethan. The dish’s breaking represents the shattering of their relationship beyond repair. Edith Wharton’s use of symbolism is one of the reasons why Ethan Frome remains an engaging piece of literature even today. Through this simple object, she tells the story of a town, a family, and how one small action can trigger a sequence of disastrous events.

The Importance of Objects in Literature

In literature, objects can be used to convey rich symbolism and meaning that go beyond their physical attributes. Objects can represent deeper ideas, emotions, and themes, adding layers of complexity to a story. They can also serve as a powerful tool for foreshadowing and character development. In Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton employs objects to great effect, particularly the pickle dish, which serves as a symbol of the fragile nature of intimacy.

The Pickle Dish in Ethan Frome

The pickle dish is first introduced in the novel as a cherished gift from Zeena’s aunt that only comes out for special occasions. However, when Zeena discovers that the dish has been broken, she becomes distraught. Although it is clear that the dish was accidentally broken by Mattie, Zeena blames her for the damage and the incident becomes a turning point that sets off a chain of events leading to tragedy.

  • The pickle dish represents the fragility of intimacy and the delicate balance required to sustain a relationship.
  • When the dish is broken, it symbolizes the breaking of the bond between Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena.
  • The dish also reveals the power dynamic between the characters, with Zeena using the incident to exert control over Ethan and Mattie.

The Significance of Objects

The use of objects in literature can be an effective way to convey themes and emotions. They can also provide insight into a character’s personality, values, and motivations. Objects can be used to create a sense of atmosphere or setting, setting the tone for the story. By paying attention to objects in literature, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the text and the larger ideas it represents.

The Power of Symbolism

The pickle dish in Ethan Frome is just one example of how objects can be used to convey powerful symbolism in literature. From the green light in The Great Gatsby to the conch in Lord of the Flies, objects can become iconic symbols that stick with readers for years to come. By creating these powerful symbols, authors can imbue their work with meaning and depth that resonates with readers long after the final page is turned.

Object Book Symbolism
The conch Lord of the Flies Order and civilization
The green light The Great Gatsby Hope and longing
The scarlet letter The Scarlet Letter Shame and redemption

Objects are a crucial element of literature that can add complexity, meaning, and emotion to a story. From the pickle dish in Ethan Frome to the conch in Lord of the Flies, objects can become powerful symbols that stick with readers long after the book is finished. By paying attention to the objects in literature, readers can gain a deeper appreciation for the themes and ideas that make these stories so memorable.

Setting in Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome, a novel by Edith Wharton, uses the setting of the small town of Starkfield, Massachusetts to create a bleak and oppressive atmosphere that mirrors the inner struggles of the characters. The harsh winters and isolated location of the town contribute to the characters’ feelings of confinement and hopelessness.

In terms of the symbolism of the pickle dish, it is important to consider the role of the Frome household and the specific setting of their kitchen. The kitchen is a central location in the story, where much of the action takes place and where the characters gather around the pickle dish. The Frome household is also symbolic of the struggles of middle-class life in the late 19th century.

  • The pickle dish represents the fragile relationship between Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie. The dish, a wedding present to Zeena, is a symbol of their failed marriage and the unspoken tensions that exist between them.
  • The broken pickle dish also symbolizes the breaking of the fragile bond between Ethan and Mattie. The shattering of the dish foreshadows the tragedy that will befall the characters later in the story.
  • Additionally, the pickle dish represents the repressed desires and passions of the characters. The dish’s delicacy and beauty are in contrast to the stark and bleak surroundings, highlighting the characters’ longing for something more.

Overall, the setting in Ethan Frome plays a significant role in highlighting the struggles and entrapment of the characters, and the symbolism of the pickle dish adds layers of meaning to their complex relationships and desires.

Symbolism in Ethan Frome Description
The Pickle Dish Represents the fragile relationships between Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie.
The Color Red Symbolizes passion and desire, often associated with Mattie.
The Sled Represents escape and freedom from the oppressive setting of Starkfield.

The symbolic elements of the novel are further emphasized by the surroundings and atmosphere of the setting, creating a nuanced and complex portrayal of the characters’ struggles and desires.

Starkfield’s Social Structure

Being a small, isolated town in Massachusetts, Starkfield’s social structure is quite rigid. The population is mainly composed of poor farmers, who have been living there for generations. The town is almost completely devoid of any external influence, and the people there live in their own little world. In such a place, societal norms are deeply ingrained and are not to be questioned. It is this social structure that Ethan Frome and his wife, Zeena, are subjected to.

The Pickle Dish Symbolism

  • The pickle dish represents the delicate, fragile nature of the relationship between Ethan and Zeena Frome. The dish is a family heirloom that Zeena treasures and keeps in a special place. It is only used on very rare occasions, such as when company comes over. When Zeena discovers that the dish has been used without her permission, she is outraged. To her, it is a sign that her marriage is falling apart and that Ethan no longer cares about her feelings.
  • The dish is also a symbol of the isolation and loneliness that governs the lives of the inhabitants of Starkfield. The Fromes have no one to confide in or turn to for help, which leads to their ultimate downfall.
  • Furthermore, the pickle dish is a metaphor for the rigid social structure of the town. The inhabitants of Starkfield are bound by strict societal norms and regulations. Any deviation from these norms is seen as a threat to the stability of the community. The dish represents a breach of this unwritten social code and highlights the consequences of stepping outside of social expectations.

Gender Roles

The town’s social structure also reinforces traditional gender roles. Women are expected to be homemakers and caretakers, while men are supposed to be providers. This is reflected in Ethan and Zeena’s marriage, where Zeena is relegated to the role of a sickly, helpless woman and Ethan is supposed to take care of her.

Furthermore, the presence of Mattie, who is hired by Zeena to help around the house, disrupts this gender dynamic. Mattie is young, vibrant, and capable, which makes Zeena feel threatened. Zeena views Mattie as a rival for Ethan’s affections and ultimately fears losing her position in the household.

The Power of Silence

The people of Starkfield also communicate through silence and unspoken gestures. The town is so small that everyone knows each other’s business, and communication is unnecessary. People understand each other implicitly.

Character Silent Undertakings
Ethan Does not express his true feelings to anyone, which leads to his ultimate despair.
Zeena Uses silence to manipulate Ethan and other people in Starkfield.
Married women Do not speak about their marital problems, but everyone knows about them.

The use of silence in communication is a key characteristic of the town’s social structure. It allows the people of Starkfield to maintain the status quo and avoid any potential conflicts.

Overall, the pickle dish symbolizes not only the delicate nature of Ethan and Zeena’s marriage but also the town’s rigid social structure, traditional gender roles, and the power of silence in communication. These factors ultimately contribute to the tragic outcomes of the novel.

The Role of the Narrator

As the story’s primary storyteller, the narrator plays a significant role in shaping the readers’ perceptions of the characters and events in Ethan Frome, including the symbolism of the pickle dish.

  • The narrator adds depth and complexity to the characters, particularly Ethan Frome, by providing insight into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. This allows readers to understand the characters’ actions and how they relate to the symbolism of the pickle dish.
  • The narrator’s perspective and tone also impact how readers interpret the events in the story. For example, the narrator’s descriptions of the pickle dish add to its symbolic significance as a representation of the fractured relationships and inability to communicate effectively among the characters.
  • The narrator’s use of flashbacks and foreshadowing contributes to the development of the plot and the story’s themes. By revealing information slowly and subtly, the narrator creates suspense and keeps readers engaged with the story.

The Symbolism of the Pickle Dish

The pickle dish serves as a powerful symbol in Ethan Frome, representing the broken relationships and inability to communicate effectively among the characters.

  • The dish itself is a fragile object, much like the relationships in the story, which can be easily shattered and irreparably damaged.
  • The pickle dish is also associated with Ethan’s wife, Zeena, who sees it as a prized possession and a symbol of her authority in the household. This highlights the power struggle between Zeena and Ethan in their relationship.
  • When Mattie, Ethan’s mistress, accidentally breaks the dish, it represents the breaking point in the love triangle between Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena. The dish’s shattering also symbolizes the irreversible damage done to the relationships among the characters.

The Narrator’s Use of Language and Description

Throughout the story, the narrator uses vivid language and description to create a sensory experience for readers, inviting them into the world of Starkfield and the lives of its inhabitants.

The narrator’s use of imagery, such as the starkness of the winter landscape, reinforces the bleak and somber themes of the story, highlighting the characters’ sense of isolation and despair.

Language Technique Description
Metaphor The “long white ribbon” of the road leading to the Frome farmhouse symbolizes the isolation and loneliness of the characters.
Description of Setting The “deadly silence” of the snow-covered landscape enhances the feeling of isolation and hopelessness present throughout the story.
Irony When Ethan and Mattie express their desire to die together and be buried side by side, it is ironic considering their earlier attempts to commit suicide failed and left them crippled and forced to live lives of misery and regret.

The narrator’s use of language and description helps to bring the story to life and convey its powerful themes and messages to readers.

The Stark Contrast between Zeena and Mattie

Set in a bleak and cold New England landscape, Ethan Frome is a story that highlights the contrast between the two women that Ethan is torn between – Zeena and Mattie. The pickle dish, which is a significant element in the novel, symbolizes the relationship between the two women and Ethan’s inner struggle.

  • Zeena: Ethan’s wife, is portrayed as a hypochondriac and a self-centered individual. She is depicted as cold, negative, and unaffectionate. Zeena’s actions and behavior serve to manipulate and guilt trip Ethan into staying with her.
  • Mattie: A young woman who initially came to live with the Fromes to help with household chores, Mattie is portrayed as youthful, vibrant, and full of life. Her presence causes Ethan to feel alive and hopeful.

The pickle dish appears in the story when Zeena has gone out of town, and Mattie and Ethan have the house to themselves. As they sit down to eat dinner, Mattie accidentally breaks the prized pickle dish while trying to take it down from the top shelf of the cupboard, which was always reserved for special occasions. This incident represents the loss of Ethan’s love and affection for Zeena and his newfound passion for Mattie.

The pickle dish symbolizes the fragile and precarious nature of the relationships between the three characters. As a physical object, the pickle dish is beautiful, but as a symbol, it represents something that is easily breakable and lost. As Ethan’s love for Mattie deepens, his relationship with Zeena deteriorates, and the pickle dish breaking signifies the irrevocable damage caused.

Zeena Mattie
Cold Warm
Negative Positive
Self-centered Selfless

Ethan’s inner conflict and his passion for Mattie cause him to behave recklessly, leading to a tragic, and fateful ending for all the characters. The pickle dish, with its fragility, foreshadows the eventual shattering of Ethan’s life. In conclusion, the pickle dish symbolizes the stark contrast between Zeena and Mattie and the fragile nature of their relationships.

Elements of Tragedy in Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome, written by Edith Wharton, is a tragic novel that depicts the life of the protagonist, Ethan Frome, in the fictional New England town of Starkfield. The story revolves around Ethan’s loveless marriage with his sickly wife, Zeena, and his growing passion for her young cousin, Mattie Silver. As the story unfolds, the characters and events are driven towards a tragic ending. In this article, we will focus on what the pickle dish symbolizes in Ethan Frome as one of the elements of tragedy.

  • The Pickle Dish – The pickle dish is a symbol of Ethan and Mattie’s love and their desire to preserve it. When Zeena goes out of town to seek medical help, Ethan and Mattie plan to have a special dinner together to celebrate their love. However, during the dinner, the pickle dish that Zeena cherishes is accidentally broken by Mattie. This event marks the beginning of the tragic ending of the story.

The pickle dish represents the fragile nature of Ethan and Mattie’s relationship. The fact that it was Zeena’s dish and was supposed to be used only on special occasions foreshadows the tragic consequences of their actions. Ethan and Mattie’s love, just like the pickle dish, is delicate and easily broken. The dish also symbolizes the norms of society that Ethan is bound by. He is unable to marry Mattie because of his societal obligations and the economic challenges he faces. In essence, the pickle dish is a metaphor for the limitations that prevent Ethan and Mattie from being together.

The pickle dish is a powerful symbol that highlights the themes of love, isolation, and tragedy in the novel. It serves as a reminder that the desire to hold onto something precious can ultimately lead to its destruction. In Ethan Frome, the pickle dish is a symbol of the tragedy that befalls Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena.

In conclusion, the pickle dish is a crucial element in the tragedy of Ethan Frome. It symbolizes the central themes of the novel and plays a significant role in the ultimate tragic ending of the story.

The Significance of the Pickle Dish in the Novella

The pickle dish is a critical symbol in the novella Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. This dish is mentioned throughout the story and holds significant value to the story’s plot. The following are some of the reasons why the pickle dish is essential in the novella:

  • The pickle dish symbolizes Ethan and Mattie’s relationship: The dish is introduced at the beginning of Chapter 4, where Zeena brings out her prized possession, the heirloom pickle dish, to serve her guests. When Mattie accidentally breaks the dish, it symbolizes her breaking the traditional social norms (as she is not a Frome or a married woman) and entering into a relationship with Ethan. The dish represents the love Ethan and Mattie share and their desire to break free from social norms.
  • The pickle dish symbolizes Zeena’s control: The pickle dish serves as a metaphor for Zeena’s control over Ethan and the household. Zeena cherishes the dish and expects it to be handled with care. When she discovers that Mattie breaks it, Zeena becomes furious, unlike her usual self. This reaction shows how Zeena’s domineering personality dominates Ethan’s life and how Ethan can’t prioritize his desires over Zeena’s wishes, even to protect his love interest.
  • The pickle dish highlights the theme of conformity: The dish’s breaking is a representation of the characters’ ability to break free from social and societal norms. Mattie’s breaking the dish foreshadows their non-conforming behaviors, including their desire to leave the community and build a life together.
  • The pickle dish symbolizes the ending of the story: Towards the end of the novel, the pickle dish is mentioned once again as Ethan packs up his possessions before departing. The dish’s remnants represent all that was left from Ethan and Mattie’s relationship and the dream they shared. It symbolizes the story’s conclusion, leaving the reader with a sobering sense of reality that their relationship could not be sustained and highlights the power of societal and family expectations over individual desires.

The Symbolic Interpretation of the pickle Dish in Ethan Frome

The pickle dish serves as a central symbol in the novella, Ethan Frome. It encapsulates both the hopes and desires of the characters as well as the realities of societal expectations and pressures. The table below depicts how the dish symbolizes various themes and ideas in the novel.

Symbol Interpretation
The pickle dish Ethan and Mattie’s relationship
The broken pickle dish Mattie and Ethan’s rebellion against social norms
Zeena’s reaction to the broken pickle dish Zeena’s control over Ethan
The remnants of the pickle dish The disillusionment that comes when ideals are confronted with reality

The interpretation of the pickle dish’s symbolism is subjective, but it adds significant value to the novella’s narrative. The dish’s importance drives the story forward and provides readers with a meaningful and thought-provoking experience that is unique to this story.

The Symbolism of Red in Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton’s classic novel, Ethan Frome, is layered with rich symbolism that adds depth and complexity to the story. One of the most prominent symbols in the novel is the color red, which is used to symbolize passion, desire, and danger.

The Number 8

The number 8 is another symbol in the novel that is often overlooked. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the number is used to represent both hope and despair in Ethan’s life.

  • The novel is divided into 8 chapters, each of which represents a different phase in Ethan’s life and relationships.
  • Ethan is 28 years old when he marries Zeena, marking the beginning of his descent into despair.
  • The climax of the novel occurs on the evening of the 8th chapter when Ethan and Mattie attempt to commit suicide by sledding into the elm tree.
  • Additionally, the number 8 is significant in Chinese culture, where it is considered to be lucky and associated with prosperity and success. This contrast with Ethan’s life adds to the sense of tragedy and hopelessness that pervades the novel.
Symbol Meaning
Red Passion, desire, danger
Number 8 Hope, despair, luck

By using the number 8 as a symbol throughout the novel, Wharton reinforces the idea that Ethan’s fate is predetermined and that his life is controlled by forces beyond his control. The number serves as a constant reminder of his hopelessness and the inevitability of his tragic end.

Isolation and Loneliness in Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome, written by Edith Wharton, is a novel that explores themes of isolation and loneliness. The pickle dish, which is frequently referenced throughout the novel, is a symbolic representation of both.

  • The pickle dish is a family heirloom and serves as a reminder of the unity between Ethan and his wife, Zeena, before their marriage deteriorated. However, it also highlights the distance and lack of communication between the couple.
  • The dish is fragile and easily broken, much like the relationships in the novel. Ethan’s attempts to repair the dish reflect his desire to mend his family relationships, but ultimately fail.
  • When Mattie, Ethan’s love interest, accidentally breaks the dish, she symbolically breaks the relationship between Ethan and Zeena. This marks the beginning of Ethan’s inevitable descent into loneliness and isolation.

The number 9 is also significant in the novel and represents the overwhelming sense of isolation that Ethan experiences:

1. Ethan lives nine miles outside of town. This physical distance from society illustrates the emotional distance he feels from those around him.

2. Ethan’s farmhouse has nine windows facing outward, emphasizing his longing to escape his isolation and connect with the outside world.

3. The novel is divided into nine sections, with each section highlighting a different aspect of Ethan’s loneliness and isolation.

Section Theme
1 Ethan’s physical appearance and behavior
2 Ethan’s relationship with his wife, Zeena
3 Ethan’s past and the reasons for his isolation
4 Ethan’s growing feelings for Mattie
5 Ethan’s guilt and conflict between his desire and moral obligations
6 Ethan’s failed attempt to escape his isolation with Mattie
7 Ethan’s desperate actions to be with Mattie
8 Ethan’s realization of his own mortality and impending doom
9 Ethan’s final isolation and loneliness

The novel illustrates the devastating effects of isolation and loneliness, and how they can lead to a tragic and lonely existence. The pickle dish and the number 9 serve as powerful symbols of this theme throughout the novel.

The Implications of Ethan’s Final Decision: The Significance of the Pickle Dish

In Edith Wharton’s novel “Ethan Frome,” the pickle dish plays a pivotal role in the story. The dish, which is a wedding present from Ethan’s wife Zeena’s aunt, symbolizes Zeena’s authority and Ethan’s sense of obligation towards her. As the story progresses, the significance of the pickle dish becomes more evident- especially in relation to Ethan’s final decision.

  • The pickle dish represents Zeena’s control: The dish is a tangible reminder of the power dynamic in Ethan and Zeena’s relationship. After all, the dish was a gift from Zeena’s aunt, not Ethan’s. By insisting that the dish only be used for special occasions, Zeena is exerting her control over the household and specifically over Ethan, and he feels trapped by this obligation.
  • The pickle dish is a symbol of Ethan’s lost hope: The dish is a reminder of the past, when Ethan and Zeena were first married and had hopes for the future. However, as Zeena’s health deteriorates and their financial situation becomes increasingly dire, Ethan’s hope wanes. The pickle dish is a reminder of the broken dreams and lost potential of their marriage and their lives.
  • The pickle dish represents Ethan’s guilt: When the dish is accidentally broken by Mattie, Ethan feels tremendous guilt. He knows that Zeena will be angry and disappointed, and he is afraid of the consequences. The dish is a physical manifestation of Ethan’s guilt and obligation towards Zeena.

Throughout the story, Ethan struggles to please everyone around him- his wife Zeena, his lover Mattie, and even his own desires and dreams. In the end, he makes a fateful decision that results in tragedy for himself and those around him. The significance of the pickle dish in this final decision cannot be understated.

The Pickle Dish: Ethan’s Decision:
Symbolizes Zeena’s control and Ethan’s obligation towards her. Ethan chooses to protect Mattie and their love, defying Zeena’s authority and his obligation to her.
Represents Ethan’s lost hope and the broken dreams of his marriage. Ethan chooses to run away with Mattie, hoping for a better future together.
Is a physical representation of Ethan’s guilt and obligation towards Zeena. Ethan’s decision will undoubtedly result in Zeena’s disappointment and anger, intensifying his feelings of guilt.

Ultimately, the pickle dish symbolizes the power dynamics, broken dreams, and guilt that surround Ethan’s decision, highlighting the complex web of emotions that led to his tragic fate.

What Does the Pickle Dish Symbolize in Ethan Frome?

1. What is the significance of the pickle dish in Ethan Frome?

The pickle dish represents the fragility of the relationships in the novel and how one small action can shatter them completely.

2. Why was the pickle dish important to Ethan and Zeena?

The pickle dish was a wedding gift given to Ethan and Zeena, so it served as a symbol of their marriage and their commitment to one another.

3. How does the breaking of the pickle dish contribute to the plot?

The breaking of the pickle dish serves as a turning point in the novel, leading to the ultimate destruction of Ethan’s marriage and his own tragic downfall.

4. What emotions does the pickle dish evoke?

The pickle dish evokes a sense of unease and tension, with readers often feeling a sense of impending doom or tragedy surrounding its appearance.

5. How is the pickle dish used as a metaphor?

The pickle dish is often used as a metaphor for the fragile and fleeting nature of human relationships, as well as the destructive power of jealousy and resentment.

6. What is the historical context of the pickle dish in the novel?

Pickle dishes were a common wedding gift during the time period in which the novel is set, emphasizing the traditional and symbolic nature of the gift.

7. What is the overall message of the pickle dish symbol in Ethan Frome?

The pickle dish symbolizes the fragility of human relationships and how small actions can have far-reaching and devastating consequences.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for taking the time to learn about the significance of the pickle dish in Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton’s use of symbolism adds depth and meaning to the novel, making it a classic piece of literature that continues to intrigue readers today. Be sure to visit us again for more insights into literature and its role in our lives.