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 lamp. She tells him one evening that ”if this goes on, my lad, we’ll have to see a doctor,” and she continues reading a magazine, laughing a little, “but with an expression which wasn’t mirthful.” When she finally understands the seriousness of Paul’s mental illness, she falls silent and her mouth ”opens in an expression of horror.” After he has vanished upstairs to his room, Paul views his mother as a monster chasing after him, though she is merely a terrified parent seeking to save her son from his illness—a task in which, as far as the reader can tell, she fails.
Paul’s father, Norman Hasleman, is as concerned as his wife about Paul’s welfare, but he is more reticent about expressing his emotions. He also exhibits some impatience with the boy. During his examination by the doctor, for example, Paul recognizes what he calls his father’s “punishment voice,” which the reader may interpret as a sign that the father is the disciplinarian of the family. Paul’s description of the voice as “resonant and cruel,” however, may be attributed to his increasing dementia rather than to reality.
Paul Hasleman, age twelve and presumably in the sixth grade, lives in an American town, probably in New England. Prior to the onset of his madness, Paul was an ordinary boy, good at geometry, and excited about geography. At first he is considered introspective, but it is soon clear that he is detached from reality; this alienation is metaphorically represented in this story as the secret snow.
As the disturbance takes over, Paul feels terribly lonely. As his sickness triumphs, Paul becomes distinctly paranoid regarding the “gross intelligences” that surround him. He only vaguely understands the pain that he is causing others.
See Norman Hasleman
See Mrs. Hasleman.
The first indication of Paul’s mental disturbance comes when the usual sound of the postman’ s footfalls on his early morning rounds are deadened as if by a fresh snowfall. The sound of the muffled footsteps and the fatality of his knock suggest a classic personification of death—if not clinical death, then the death-to-the-world that constitutes psychosis.
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.