There are thirty-six lines in ‘‘anyone lived in a pretty how town,’’ and eight of them are repetitions of or variants on a previous line. These repeated lines have to do with the list of the seasons, the list of celestial bodies and precipitation, and the bells ringing throughout the town. All of these repeated lines are related to the passage of time and therefore establish one of the poem’s primary themes. Aside from these straightforward repetitions, there are two mentions of children forgetting things as they mature, and of the dream-filled slumber that describes death. The word by is also repeated several times throughout the poem, especially in the second half. The word is used to join similar or identical things, which is a repetition in and of itself. A popular phrase that demonstrates this usage is ‘‘one by one,’’ though cummings uses far less conventional constructions in his . . . Read More
Passage of Time
One of the most prominent themes in ‘‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’’ is that of the passage of time. This is communicated in the thrice-repeated lists of seasons and of celestial bodies coupled with the rain. With one exception, each time the lists are repeated, the order in which they appear has been rearranged. Used to tell time long before the invention of clocks and calendars, the seasons, heavenly bodies, and weather are ancient signifiers of time as it passes. Additionally, there are two references to children growing up, one in stanza 3 and one in stanza 6. There are two references to the bells ringing through the town, and these are presumably church bells. Church bells ring for holidays, births, marriages, and deaths; in other words, all of the major events that punctuate a life as it progresses. The other, less straightforward, instances that capture the passage of time are the life and death of Anyone and . . . Read More
Cummings’s ‘‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’’ consists of nine four-line stanzas. The poem is predominantly written in tetrameter, or lines consisting of four feet (each foot represents one stressed syllable and one unstressed syllable).
The first line of the poem, which is also the poem’s title, introduces the character of Anyone and the picturesque village that he lives in. The next line mentions the sound of the bells that can often be heard in the town. Presumably this refers to church bells, which announce holidays, weddings, funerals, and other events that mark the passage of time and of individual lives. The third line lists the seasons, again underscoring the passage of time. The stanza’s final line, which is a bit nonsensical, is meant to represent Anyone’s exploits as he goes through life.
The poem then mentions the other townspeople, stating that they . . . Read More
Critics do not interpret Conrad Aiken’s short story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” (1934) in a literal way. Upon initial examination, they consistently regard the story as something other than what it is. Thomas L. Erskine, for example, in his 1972 psychoanalytical interpretation of the story, claims that “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” is about the “balance” between “two worlds” and the “discovery” that results by leaving one to enter the other. For Erskine, each of young Paul Hasleman’s deformed or defamiliarized perceptions of the world amount to an “epiphany,” an intense vision with deep symbolic meaning.
Appreciating the story on purely aesthetic grounds, Elizabeth Tebeaux calls attention to Aiken’s work, stating that he “enables us to feel some of the magic and terrifying wonder that the snow world, whatever it is, offers Paul.” Tebeaux concludes by noting that the story . . . Read More
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 . . . Read More
Aiken brought the poet’s sensibility and craft to his fiction. He narrates “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” from Paul’s point-of-view; this perspective guarantees that the author’s stream-of-consciousness prose style will affect readers directly. Not surprisingly, one finds a large number of lyric poems in Aiken’s verse. Aiken also utilizes the material properties of words. For example, the pervasive alliteration, with its repeated “s” sounds, already appears in the story’s title. In addition, Aiken manages to endow his prose with the naturalness of colloquial speech. Although couched in the third person, Aiken’s narration remains faithful to the linguistic style of a twelve-year-old boy.
In “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” Aiken’s depiction of insanity begins at the grammatical level. In the opening paragraph, . . . Read More
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 . . . Read More
Deirdre is Paul’s classmate. She sits at the desk in front of his. She is not a fully developed character, but her gesture of turning around to smile admiringly at Paul when he answers a question correctly is girlish. Deirdre has freckles on her neck and delicate hands; she is a stereotypical “first love” for a young boy verging on his teens.
The doctor is the first to suggest that Paul is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Initially he gives the boy a physical examination. Then, announcing that the problem might be ”something else,” begins a psychological examination.
Mrs. Hasleman obviously cares for and is worried about her son. In the first part of the story, she worries about Paul’s condition and speculates that he suffered from “eyestrain.” To remedy this, she buys him a new . . . Read More
Aiken divides “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” into four distinct sections. In section I, the story introduces Paul Hasleman, age twelve, a student in Mrs. Buell’s sixth-grade classroom. Paul is distracted, however, by his intense memory of an event that occurred several days before. He thinks about the globe that figures in the day’s geography lesson and hears Deirdre, the girl who sits in front of him, awkwardly answer a question about the definition of the term “equator.” A few days earlier, Paul had the impression that snow had fallen; the sound of the postman’s feet on the cobblestones outside his house suddenly sounded muffled. When he got up and looked out, however, the cobblestones were bare and there was no snow. Yet in his own mind, Paul is mysteriously aware of a “secret snow” that signals his growing sense of detachment from the real world.
Paul recalls that the sound of the postman’s footsteps grow less . . . Read More
Bobbie Ann Mason’s short story, “Residents and Transients,” first appeared in the Boston Review in 1982, shortly before its inclusion in the collection, Shiloh and Other Stories. The volume received high critical praise and several nominations for awards, as well as receiving the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award in 1983. Readers and critics alike have praised Mason’s blunt, straightforward style as well as the way she develops her characters by saying less, rather than more.
“Residents and Transients” has not been anthologized quite so widely as some of Mason’s other stories, nor has the story received as much critical attention as her novels. Nevertheless, the story offers a number of interesting features that are worthy of closer examination. Indeed, the story is considerably more complicated than might be thought on first reading.
One of the first features of the story, apparent to anyone who has read . . . Read More