Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 588

The narrator thinks he has survived for five months after an airplane crash in an Arctic blizzard, but he does not know for sure. The facts the survivor circles around are these: He is on the planet Earth; chance has destroyed his memory, which his dreams are beginning to reconstruct; he has been walking through a steady blizzard for five months; he has walked enough miles to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean; he is not walking in a straight line and may be making an error by walking in a circle; his mind is not his friend, although it is also his support and defense; and his need to survive is a sacred truth more important than the facts, which devour him when he relaxes his mental fixedness.

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When he considers his chances for survival, he concludes that the facts of his existence fit so well together he could almost believe in Divine Providence. For example, he may have fallen through a snow cloud when the plane crashed; he may have awakened in an ammonia atmosphere; he may have had another sort of body; he may have had meaningless dreams instead of the ones that give him evidence of a previous existence; he may have had inadequate clothing; or he may have been without his battered old chair and mysterious harness so perfectly fitted for him to sleep. He admits that these facts should cause him to rejoice, but instead they burden him with a purposeful desire to survive.

From the evidence of his dreams, from the surprising amount of energy he has after five months without eating, and from his strong feelings about his fiancé, he concludes that he must be young, probably twenty-seven years old. The process of this reasoning, however, turns in on itself, because it convinces him of the flimsiness of the evidence on which he is staking everything. It is entirely possible that he is imagining the external world just because he wishes it were true. He concludes that he is in no position to be sure about anything, so a feeling of futility grips him.

If facts cannot support his existence, only faith can stave off the futility. Its contours develop from a central reality: Without energy, he will die, and only a mind of faith will sustain his energy. He must keep his mind firmly fixed on reasonable hopes, he must push out the paralyzing thoughts, he must trust the wind—which is the law of his existence—always keeping his face to it and being resigned to its guidance. By refusing to be in awe of the empty universal storm, by looking pointedly into it, by repeating over and over “courageous and calm,” by thus fixing his mind, he can endure.

He is so sure of this method of survival that he makes up a dangerous game. The wooden chair is his only proof of a world that exists outside the raging snowstorm; therefore, he lets go of it and steps into the snow until he can barely discern it as a shadow through the silent, gray blizzard. The rules of his game say that he must not lose control as he reaches the chair again, but he often sobs and kisses it, calling the snowflakes that fall on it by human names. Even so, he believes that he can keep this harmless, mad game under control as long as he walks along, keeping his mind firm and the chair strapped to his back. All he must do is endure.

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Themes