Eleven-year-old Eldon lives on a farm in northern Minnesota, on the edge of a forest which reaches clear up to Hudson's Bay. His family of six inhabits a two-story wooden house with white board siding. In the house, under the eaves, there are two rooms. Eldon and his elder brother, Wayne, share one of them. Two "very old" Norwegian men, Uncle David and Nels, occupy the other. Downstairs, there are four rooms—the kitchen, the bedroom where Father and Mother sleep, a dining room that no one ever uses, and a living room, which is comfortably furnished with a sofa, chairs, and a wood stove. The living room is also called the winter room; it is where the family spends much of their time in the winter.
Corn, oats, barley, flax, and wheat are grown on the farm, which spreads over eighty-seven cleared acres. There are two granaries and a barn on the property, which were built before Eldon's grandfather arrived there from the "old country." In the barn, there is a hayloft, a manger, calf pens, a silage pit, and a separator room, where cream is taken from the milk given by the dairy cows and then sold in town. In addition to the cows, the family owns two work horses, Jim and Stacker, who are gentle and so big that Wayne and Eldon must climb up their legs to harness them.
Life on the farm is defined by the seasons. Many people think that spring is a time of awakening, but in Eldon's opinion, springtime is "when everything gets soft and it's an awful mess." The bodies of dead animals that have been thrown in a frozen pile during the winter begin to thaw and draw maggots. The defrosting manure and slop that have collected around the barn is so deep that the cows actually have to lunge through to get to solid ground. The calves are born in early spring, however, and it is because of this that Uncle David calls the season "the best time there is." It is Wayne and Eldon's job to train the new calves to drink from buckets. The boys get the calves to suck on their small fingers, then draw their hands down into the container. Most calves quickly learn in this way to take the milk directly from the bucket.
Summer is a time for work. The season begins when Father takes the plowshares to town to be sharpened. He then goes over and over the fields with them to break down the soil until it is "as smooth as cake batter." Eldon accompanies Mother when she brings Father's lunch out to the fields, and sometimes, when...
(The entire section is 2225 words.)
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The Winter Room is a portrait of idyllic rural life. Its focus is a Minnesota family of six: a husband and wife, their two sons, and two bachelor relatives. Although few dramatic events happen to this family, the book is one of Paulsen's most distinctive and original novels.
The novel has three parts that are interrelated by mood and theme rather than plot. The book opens with a short section entitled "Tuning," a lyric prose poem on the power of books as imaginative experience. The second section is composed of four chapters. Each one paints a portrait of one of the seasons of the year. Arranged like movements in a symphony, these chapters explore how each season brings its characteristic activities to the farm and creates its special feelings in the family. The year described is not a particular year but every year's common and inevitable happenings.
The third section has another four chapters. They are stories told by an uncle as the narrator recalls them. The last one inadvertently leads to the climactic crisis of the novel, a silent schism between the uncle and his nephews. The confrontation is a moment of truth for both sides: the boys learn a secret about adulthood, and their uncle reverses for a moment the irresistible march of time.
(The entire section is 216 words.)