Snow Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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In “Snow,” a short story from his 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning short-story collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Butler weaves the tale of a Vietnamese refugee, Giàu, and a Jewish lawyer, Mr. Cohen. Butler’s theme is once again the fracturing of community by the alienating sense of dislocation felt by outsiders.

On Christmas Eve, Giàu is working in the Plantation Hunan restaurant in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The product of a patriarchal society, she is a woman without a man, a position she finds uncomfortable. Everything about America makes her feel alien. In America, people are Christian; she is Buddhist. In America, people are always concerned about time; she had not seen a clock until she came to America (however, she likes the name of the “grandfather” clock, which conjures comforting images for her). She does not feel like those who live in the Vietnamese community in Lake Charles; she does not feel like a “real” American, like she supposes others do. Giàu compares herself to the building housing the restaurant, a former plantation home, noting that the life of a restaurant is not the life the house once knew.

Giàu remembers the first time she saw snow, while working in a St. Louis restaurant. The snow covered all that was familiar to her, frightening her. Just as she is frightened of snow, she is frightened to live her life without a man. When Mr. Cohen walks into the Plantation Hunan, she finds refuge in his face, as if it is a place to hide from the snow. She finds his voice reassuring, like a grandfather’s voice. She asks why he is not celebrating Christmas. He explains that it is not the custom of Jews.

Mr. Cohen, a Polish man also displaced in America, is also afraid of snow, which reminds him of his father’s death. His father’s literal death is linked to the metaphorical death of his Polish and Jewish heritage through his displacement to America. Giàu understands this; it is how she, too, feels. When she saw the snow, she realized that her culture was lost to her. She adds, “I was dead, too.”

“Snow” ends on an optimistic note when Mr. Cohen and Giàu agree to a New Year’s Eve date. In the story’s ending, Butler fuses images and metaphors, cultures and people. Giàu knows, just as her Vietnamese brothers and sisters know, that people should celebrate whatever holiday comes along. She sits in the restaurant, waiting for Mr. Cohen, listening to Grandfather, the clock, tell his story of time. She still has time to make her life whole, to recapture her culture. As two people displaced from...

(The entire section is 638 words.)