Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Aiken’s story relies on both literary and psychological symbolism. By forcing the reader to adopt Paul’s point of view, Aiken encourages his audience to identify with the boy, who seems locked in conflict with his father in a classical Oedipal situation. Paul mentions his conflict with his father and mother, but he only speaks of talking with his mother. When the examination (the “inquisition” as seen by Paul) occurs, Paul hears his father’s soft and cold voice of “silken warning”; later, Paul hears the “resonant and cruel” punishment voice. In fact, Paul cannot meet his father’s gaze, for he sees only his father’s brown slippers, which come closer and closer.

Not only does the reader adopt Paul’s perspective (the examination is an “inquisition” and a “cross-examination,” both of which imply Paul as persecuted victim), but also the reader shares Paul’s thoughts as Aiken moves from third-person limited point of view to an even more intimate stream-of-consciousness narration. As a result, Paul’s interpretation of the events seems so convincing that a concerned mother’s visit becomes an invasion by an “alien,” that a cruel “I hate you!” becomes an exorcising phrase. (The references to “exorcism” and “inquisition” suggest that Paul’s world has become a religion for him.)

Aiken’s style also involves the use of imagery that suggests corruption and the failure of relationships. As he walks...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Great Depression
‘‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’’ appeared in 1934, the second year of President Franklin Delano...

(The entire section is 315 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Aiken brought the poet’s sensibility and craft to his fiction. He narrates ‘‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’’ from...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1930s: The American economy is staggering from the impact of the Great Depression. The Wall Street crash of 1929 precipitated a...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research the fundamentals of Freud’s psychological theory, especially his concepts of the Oedipal complex and the ‘‘Primal Scene.’’...

(The entire section is 148 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘‘Ligeia’’ (1838) and ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ (1843) both deal with insanity and serve as interesting...

(The entire section is 130 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Erskine, Thomas L. ‘‘The Two Worlds of ‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow,’’’ in From Fiction to Film: Conrad...

(The entire section is 272 words.)