Silent Snow, Secret Snow Critical Overview
by Conrad Aiken

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Given the interest in the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud in the 1930s, it is not surprising that early interpretations of ‘‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’’ examined the story from that perspective. Leo Hamalaian provided an early example of psychoanalytic analysis in his ‘‘Aiken’s ‘‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’’’ of 1948. Frederick Hoffman’s 1957 study of Freudianism and the Literary Mind, which devotes considerable space to Aiken’s fiction, is another case in point, although it should be added that Hoffman later de-emphasized the Freudian aspect of his reading of Aiken.

Psychoanalysis still influences readings of the tale. As late as 1980, Laura Slap invoked the Oedipus complex as the unconscious theme of Aiken’s story: ‘‘My thesis is that Paul Hasleman’s illness is a reaction to his realization of his parents’ sexual activity.’’ When the doctor asks Paul to read a passage from a book taken from the shelves, the passage happens to be from Sophocles’ play Oedipus at Colonus. This permits Slap to work the Oedipus theme into her discussion.

Some critics have avoided the psychoanalytic approach in favor of a purely aesthetic approach, inspired by the fact that Aiken considered himself a poet first and a prose-writer second. An example of the aesthetic, or formalist, approach is to be found in Elizabeth Tebeux’s ‘‘‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’: Style as Art’’ (1983). In the essay, Tebeaux discusses Aiken’s careful usage of such poetic devices as ambiguity and polysemy (the endowing of one simple word with many meanings, each of which depends on a particular context); she also looks closely at the use of rhythm and alliteration as a means of reproducing the feelings that accompany Paul’s descent into madness. According to Tebeaux, ‘‘focusing only on Paul is to miss the most remarkable literary aspects of the story. Combining sense and symbol and rhythm and tone and sound, Aiken uses his poetic skills to draw the reader into Paul’s world.’’

A more recent tendency is to deconstruct the story by making a...

(The entire section is 492 words.)