At the beginning of the novel, Ethan's perception of Mattie's face is "like a window that has caught the sunset," and later, he thinks her face seems "like a wheat field under a summer breeze." As Ethan and Mattie walk home from the dance, Ethan reveals to Mattie that he had been hiding while she talked to Denis Eady. Darkness comes, "dropping down like a black veil from the heavy hemlock boughs." The black veil causes the reader to think of a funeral.
Ethan is held down by a ball and chain; his marriage to his wife, Zeena.
It seems as though Mattie is the secret key to unlocking the ball and chain and freeing Ethan of his sin-filled heart.
The most important use of symbolic imagery in Ethan Frome is the winter setting, which is first described in the prologue and is carried throughout the main story.
Harmon Gow's assessment of Ethan Frome early in the prologue is that he has endured too many Starkfield winters.