What is the thematic concept and statement of The Winter Room?
The major theme of Gary Paulson’s Winter Room is the endless cycle of life. The story is set on a farm, and told as a memoir from the point of view of eleven-year-old Eldon. He is the youngest family member experiencing the seasons of life on a Minnesota farm. There are farm chores that are specific to each season of the year that occur in a cyclical fashion. Eldon’s reactions to life off the land highlight the theme.
As spring arrives, most of the family members feel it is the season of new birth as the calves are born and the earth is renewed by the melting snow and ice. Eldon sees the mud and muck of the season as it reveals what the winter has hidden. In the cycle of life spring is associated with youth and new beginnings.
Spring moves into summer, the season of the intense work of tending to the crops and animals on the farm. The heat of the day can make the work tiresome and demanding for Eldon’s family. He feels the emotions although he is not yet involved in the heavy work of the season. He is a sickly child, so his parents spare him the backbreaking summer chores, but he is allowed to participate in harvesting and storing the hay for the winter ahead. He enjoys this activity. When one is in the summer of life, it is said "they are making hay." In other words, this is the time when one works the hardest for their living.
As fall arrives, the family slows down for a respite before it is time for the slaughter, which Eldon dislikes. Although the slaughter provides sustenance for the family through the winter, Eldon interprets it as a time of death; but in the circle of life, it is considered a time for reaping the rewards of hard work.
This is followed by the winter, when time seems to slow down and the imperfections of the other seasons are engulfed in snow. Although the farm must be maintained, it is a time when the family gathers in the “winter room.” The uncles tell stories while the boys lounge by the fire and mother knits quietly. This season is idyllic in Eldon’s eyes, but is often interpreted as the time when people age, and their value in life decreases. In this way the story makes a statement about the inevitability of the passing of time from birth and renewal, to slowing down, aging, and death, thus highlighting the continual ebb and flow of the unending cycle of life.