The Great Depression
“Silent Snow, Secret Snow” appeared in 1934, the second year of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term in office. America was also in the midst of the Great Depression, which disrupted American life, put many people out of work, and left many impoverished. Other nations were affected: Britain, France, Italy, and Germany also suffered from high inflation and unemployment. A fascist government, put in power because of its promise to restore national order and stabilize the economy, had achieved power in Italy in 1922. Another fascist government was established in 1934 in Germany as the Nazis gained control. England, too, had its totalitarian movement around this time, when Oswald Mosley formed the Union of Fascists, the so-called “Black Shirts.”
In the United States, on the other hand, there was continuing progress in industry and technology. Although not everyone in 1934 could afford them, a variety of new household conveniences—such as refrigerators and electric ovens—appeared. Air travel increasingly competed with train travel, and radio, the first great mass medium, had come into its own. President Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats,” broadcast nationally, brought the country closer together.
Literary and Artistic Trends
Around 1934, there were two important trends in American literature. There was the social consciousness movement of writers like John Steinbeck, who portrayed the lives of ordinary people during hard financial times. There was also the modernist movement, as exemplified by the poetry of Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens, or the novels of John Dos Passos.
Rejecting the literary conventions of the nineteenth century, the modernist movement concerned itself with formal experimentation and deliberate disorientation of the reader, often by fragmenting narration into dislodged and discontinuous sections. Modernism also appeared in the non-representational schools of painting and sculpture, as well as in atonal music. Advocates of modernism claimed that the “alienation” aspect of the movement accurately reflected the world—human consciousness was becoming progressively detached from its origins.
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.