Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Cold Sassy tree gives the novel its title and the town its name, and it symbolizes a number of concepts and characters. The tree stands for Rucker’s and Miss Love’s strength and composure, and the word sassy might refer to their sassy flouting of the town’s social conventions. The tree also symbolizes an older era in the town’s history. The town takes its name from the trees, and the shrinking sassafras grove parallels the town’s bittersweet progress. When settlers first came to Cold Sassy there was a whole grove of sassafras trees. To make room for the new railroad, all but one tree was cut down. At the end of the novel, that last tree is felled so that the tracks can be widened, and the townspeople want to change the name of the town to something more modern. With this eradication of the sassafras trees over time, the town grows more modern and distances itself more from its heritage.
Miss Love Simpson teaches Rucker and Will about love, so it is fitting that her birthday falls on Valentine’s Day. Her name also fits her loving, affectionate nature. Valentine’s Day comes to symbolize not only Love’s sweet nature but also the love shared by Rucker and Miss Love, and the possibility of such love despite social stigmas.