Ethan Frome

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The Red Glass Pickle-dish Symbol Analysis

The Red Glass Pickle-dish Symbol Icon
The pickle-dish, Zeena's favorite wedding present, is a symbol of Ethan and Zeena's marriage. For this reason, its destruction is particularly devastating to Zeena. The red color of the dish can be interpreted as symbolizing the passion that the couple no longer share.

The Red Glass Pickle-dish Quotes in Ethan Frome

The Ethan Frome quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Red Glass Pickle-dish. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Ethan Frome published in 2005.
Chapter 4 Quotes
Completely reassured, she shone on him through tear-hung lashes, and his soul swelled with pride as he saw how his tone had subdued her. She did not even ask what he had done. Except when he was steering a big log down the mountain to his mill he had never known such a thrilling sense of mastery.
Related Characters: Ethan Frome, Mattie Silver
Related Symbols: The Red Glass Pickle-dish
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mattie breaks the red pickle dish, symbolizing their mutual and forbidden love for each other (as the pickle dish was Zeena's favorite wedding present), it represents the danger of acting on their passion. However, when Ethan cleans it up and puts it back together—as though it never happened—the two believe that they have solved their problem, even though it is merely a temporary solution. In this passage, both Ethan and Mattie are willing to put their faith in Ethan with his masculine authority that declares that the problem has been solved, even though he has merely swept it under the rug (almost literally). Mattie cedes to Ethan, and he views her as “subdued,” speaking to the subservient position of women in marital relations. Ethan’s sense of control over Mattie is further emphasized by his invigorating memory of steering a log down the mountain—and image that will recur with disastrous results later in the text.

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Chapter 7 Quotes
"If I'd 'a' listened to folks, you'd 'a' gone before now, and this wouldn't 'a' happened," she said; and gathering up the bits of broken glass she went out of the room as if she carried a dead body . . .
Related Characters: Mattie Silver (speaker), Mattie Silver
Related Symbols: The Red Glass Pickle-dish
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

When Zeena sees the broken pickle dish, she understands that Ethan and Mattie have been adulterous, even though they never physically consummated their betrayal of her. She interprets the broken pickle dish as a violation of Ethan’s wedding vows with her because the dish was a wedding gift, and a memory of what love they once had for each other. Further, it symbolizes the passion that Ethan and Mattie now share, and which Zeena sees as irretrievably beyond her control because it has taken a material toll on her life and her possessions. The red pickle dish’s symbolic resonance with “a dead body” underscores the way that Ethan and Mattie’s betrayal is a crime of passion that has effectively killed any potential of reconciliation between the three.

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The Red Glass Pickle-dish Symbol Timeline in Ethan Frome

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Red Glass Pickle-dish appears in Ethan Frome. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Work, Industry and Progress Theme Icon
...her hair. The table is carefully laid for supper, with Ethan's favorite pickles in a red glass pickle -dish . The room is warm and bright, and Zeena's cat lies contentedly by the fire.... (full context)
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
...and Mattie's hands meet on the handle of the milk-jug the cat knocks over the pickle-dish, shattering it. (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
Mattie is distraught. The pickle-dish was one of Zeena's most prized wedding gifts. In fact, Zeena prizes it so highly... (full context)
Chapter 6
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Hostile or Indifferent Nature Theme Icon
...to drive another load of logs to town and buy some glue to fix the pickle-dish while sending Jotham to fetch Zeena at the train station. However, one of the horses... (full context)
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
...and has gone upstairs without saying a word. Ethan tells Mattie he will fix the pickle-dish later than night after Zeena has gone to bed. (full context)
Chapter 7
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Marriage Theme Icon
When Zeena returns, she is furious and carrying the broken pickle-dish. Ethan tells her the cat knocked it over, to which Zeena replies that a cat... (full context)
Chapter 8
Determinism and Free Will Theme Icon
Duty and Morality vs. Desire Theme Icon
At dawn, Mattie appears in the doorway wearing her red scarf . She is pale and says she has been awake all night, listening for him... (full context)