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Silence Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A man living in an unnamed town has rented a series of rooms, first near a park, then near a bakery, and finally, “in desperation,” in a roominghouse adjacent to a college. His moves, each to a different section of town, are motivated by loneliness. The park was filled with young people enthusiastically playing games, but he had no part in their delight. The workers in the bakery building treated him as though he were not there. Now he only looks at the college campus from his window; he has not spoken to anyone in the five years that he has been in town.

The man works long hours every day to combat his isolation, but his evenings are almost unbearable for him. He paces slowly, looking at old pictures on the wall, lies sleeplessly in bed thinking of the past, or simply sits in a wooden chair, staring blankly at the walls. He has conversed with nearly all the objects in his room, even the walls.

One Sunday morning he notices the green curtains on his window and is surprised that it has taken him so long to discover them. As he looks out this window and spots a girl sitting on the college lawn, reading a book, he experiences a catharsis. After an hour the girl leaves, and the man dashes to a nearby store to buy white curtains, to match the color of her sweater. The next afternoon, after he hurries home from work, he sees the girl in her place on the college lawn and is shocked because she is now wearing a red sweater and a black skirt. A similar scenario is repeated each day for six months, during which time the man matches the colors of the girl’s skirt and sweater until his room becomes a riot of color. When the girl does not appear during the two weeks at Christmas break and occasionally thereafter, the man is so let down that he does not go to work.

One day a friend visits. The man considers sharing his source of joy with his friend, but, feeling jealous, decides not to. Never again does he receive a visitor. After adding two heavy locks to his door, he turns out his light and peers out his window. Spring comes and then summer, with its heat, ripening fruits, full-leafed trees, and warm wind from the sea. In mid-June the girl leaves, never to return. A year passes. The man stops working and his curtains fade and become soiled.