Themes and Meanings
Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” like Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case,” concerns a boy’s emotional and psychological estrangement from the real world. Although some critics have seen the retreat to the snow world as representative of a death wish, it seems more to represent schizophrenic detachment into a fantasy world. Psychological criticism of the story is almost inevitable because Aiken himself was much influenced by Sigmund Freud, whose theory of the Oedipal complex seems related to the conflict between Paul and his father. (The passage Paul reads for his eye test is from Sophocles’ Oidipous epi Kolni (401 b.c.e.; Oedipus at Colonus, 1729) Psychological readings are further encouraged by events in Aiken’s life: As an eleven-year-old, he had seen his father kill his mother and then commit suicide.
The story, however, is more than a clinical case study of a person who is suffering from a psychological disorder. Aiken’s background is literary as well as psychological, and his story relies heavily on the theme of “two different worlds,” a theme that is reinforced through imagery of geography and exploring. Paul tries to lead a double life (a “public life” and the “life that was secret”) in two worlds, but he also is aware of the necessity of keeping a balance between those worlds. His mother expresses her concern about his living in another world, and when he realizes the...
(The entire section is 549 words.)