Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Icicle” is unified by the image of ice that runs through the entire story. The Russian title of the story, “Gololeditsa,” refers not to the icicle that killed Natasha but to the icy conditions that produced it. The narrator’s first vision of the past takes him to the Ice Age, and he first feels alarm for Natasha after helping the woman who has fallen on the ice. Following that experience, the narrator feels that he must treat Natasha as he would a bag of eggs, and he decides to take her home by trolley because “it really was very slippery.” Later, after he knows precisely what will happen to Natasha, he is depressed by the sight of icicles that grow “like mushrooms” on the neighboring roofs.

There is, however, another “icicle” in the story that contributes as much to Natasha’s death as does the one that strikes her. Following the narrator’s arrest, he is asked to predict the future of Colonel Tarasov, who is handling his case. As he absently answers the question, he has a vision of the entire world covered with ice, and the colonel, who in every incarnation has achieved one rank higher than he did in the previous one, has become a gigantic gleaming icicle in control of everything around him. Specific references to the political climate of the Soviet Union in the early 1950’s are infrequent in “The Icicle,” but in the epilogue, where the fates of the various characters are summarized, the narrator states very clearly that people such as Colonel Tarasov were not needed following 1953 (the year of Joseph Stalin’s death). When one recalls that the period of general relaxation that followed Stalin’s death is referred to as the “Thaw,” it becomes possible to see Natasha’s arbitrary death as produced by the political climate of the period rather than by specific meteorological conditions. “The Icicle,” however, is more than mere allegory. Its fantastic hypothesis (the possibility that each of us contains multiple past and future existences) raises it above the concrete reality of the Soviet 1950’s and gives it universal significance.