Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In one sense, “The Icicle” is about writers and writing. The narrator’s reasons for undertaking the story are certainly compelling, but readers can assume that all writers have equally compelling reasons for their work. Practical aspects of the trade are addressed: The narrator hopes that his story will come out in a large edition not for money or glory but because he hopes to increase his chances of reaching Vasily, his future reader. The question of who this future reader will be is central to the story. In an epilogue, the narrator observes that because, like any other writer, he must reread his work, he already has at least one reader. The idea of writing only for himself does not present a difficulty for him, because he realizes that he is writing for a future self. Writing to this future self is his way of combating the inevitability and senselessness of death. Indeed, he observes that “most books are letters to the future with a reminder of what happened.”

Another central theme of “The Icicle” is the continuity of life. As the narrator watches the parade of past existences at the New Year’s party, he realizes that anyone who examines himself closely will find simultaneously existing within himself thieves, liars, and cheats as well as perhaps great creative artists. Following Natasha’s senseless death, it is also important to him to realize that none of these multiple existences is lost, although they may be forgotten. “The Icicle” is his letter to the future, his attempt to remind a future incarnation of his present existence during the Soviet 1950’s.