Sanity and Insanity
In “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” sanity is defined as the ability to function in the everyday world and interact with people. Conversely, insanity is measured by the degree to which one is unfamiliar with everyday occurrences and the inability to communicate with others. Deirdre’s eagerness to answer Mrs. BuelFs geography question is evidence of her sanity. The globe that figures in Mrs. Buell’s geography lesson is a symbol for the real and everyday world in which people, as they mature, become increasingly interactive. In contrast, Paul’s desire to avoid reality and seek refuge in the sheltering snow is indicative of his increasing behavioral abnormality.
Truth and Falsehood
Saneness may be defined in “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” as a person’s ability to distinguish between the truth and lies. Paul’s parents are concerned that he is no longer his true self. The doctor investigates the truth of Paul’s altered condition; Mrs. Buell teaches the accumulated significant truths about the world to her students; Deirdre admires Paul and flashes her smile to indicate, truthfully, that she is fond of him. Falsehood, on the other hand, is linked to insanity in the story. Paul labors to conceal his knowledge of the snow.
Love and Hatred
Love involves valuing, cherishing, and voluntarily assuming responsibility for another person. Love can also be directed toward institutions or things, like a job, a house, or a dog. Paul loved his parents, but his madness erases his feelings and eventually causes him to reject his mother. Hatred inverts love, for it closes rather than opens personal relationships, and thrives on suspicion and self-involvement. Hatred dissolves the bonds that unite people and in its very intensity constitutes a disturbance of the mind.
Community and Alienation
Community consists of a conscious sharing of values and things. In “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” the schoolroom and the family home symbolize community; Deirdre attempts to establish a more intimate community with Paul by indicating that she admires him for correctly answering a question. Alienation is a disconnection from those shared bonds of community. For Paul, this happens when the snow alters his view of the world and at last obliterates it.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Conrad Aiken, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.