Silent Snow, Secret Snow Summary
by Conrad Aiken

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Silent Snow, Secret Snow Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” Conrad Aiken describes the increasing emotional isolation of a boy, Paul, who prefers his imaginative world of silence and retreat to the real world of parents and teachers. Aiken limits his third-person point of view to Paul, through whose eyes readers view corruption and authority, as well as serenity, peace, and perhaps insanity.

The story begins with Paul in the classroom of Miss Buell, the geography teacher, who instructs her students in the different regions of the globe. As she conducts her class, Paul muses about his secret, the world of snow that is slowly replacing the real world. Every day, Paul senses that the snow, which exists only in his own mind, is getting deeper. As the snow deepens, Paul has more difficulty hearing the mail carrier’s steps, which he believes are muffled by the snow: The first day, he first hears the mail carrier’s step six houses away; the next day, five houses away; eventually, he will not hear the carrier’s step at all. Although he realizes that his daydreaming distresses his concerned parents, who seek physical reasons for his preoccupation, he treasures his secret world and fears to reveal his secret to them. Miss Buell also senses Paul’s inattention, but she seems more concerned with humiliating him than with helping him. When she asks Paul a question, he does manage to answer correctly, but only with a large amount of effort.

On his “timeless” walk home from school, Paul sees through the “accompaniment, or counterpoint, of snow” a series of items of “mere externality” (internal matters are more important to Paul). As he approaches his street, he anticipates seeing the snow and reviews its progress, suddenly realizing with disappointment that in fact he had not heard the mail carrier’s steps that morning until he knocked at his family’s door. He wonders, “Was it all going to happen, at the end, so suddenly?”

That evening, the doctor arrives and gives Paul a physical examination to determine the cause of his problem. After Paul reads a passage from Sophocles, the doctor concludes that there is nothing wrong with his eyes and that the cause is “something else.” When he asks about Paul’s worries, Paul becomes evasive and retreats into his snow world, where he receives reassuring promises from the “voice” of the snow. The doctor continues to probe, and Paul’s parents become impatient with him when he will admit only that he thinks about the snow. When he refuses to divulge more information, his father, who has grown increasingly exasperated, uses his “punishment” voice. At this point, Paul escapes by running upstairs to his room, where the snow engulfs the furnishings and speaks to him of peace, remoteness, cold, and white darkness. When his mother suddenly enters the room, he sees her as a hostile presence that threatens his world. He cries out, “Mother! Mother! Go away! I hate you.” Those words solve everything, for the snow resumes its speech about peace, cold, remoteness, and, finally, sleep.


(Short Stories for Students)

Aiken divides ‘‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’’ into four distinct sections. In section I, the story introduces Paul Hasleman, age twelve, a student in Mrs. Buell’s sixth-grade classroom. Paul is distracted, however, by his intense memory of an event that occurred several days before. He thinks about the globe that figures in the day’s geography lesson and hears Deirdre, the girl who sits in front of him, awkwardly answer a question about the definition of the term ‘‘equator.’’ A few days earlier, Paul had the impression that snow had fallen; the sound of the postman’s feet on the cobblestones outside his house suddenly sounded muffled. When he got up and looked out, however, the cobblestones were bare and there was no snow. Yet in his own mind, Paul is mysteriously aware of a ‘‘secret snow’’ that signals his growing sense of detachment from the real world.

Paul recalls that the sound of the...

(The entire section is 1,156 words.)