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, for example, Paul thinks of the snow—the initial stages of his madness—and refers to it with the pronoun “it”: “Just why it should have happened, or why it should have happened just when it did, he could not, of course, possibly have said” (emphasis added). The personified “it,” then, becomes a thing.
Point of View
Aiken provides Paul’s perceptions, as when he stares at the debris in a muddy gutter: ”In the gutter, beside a drain, was a scrap of torn and dirty newspaper, caught in a little delta of filth; the word ECZEMA appeared in large capitals, and below it was a letter from Mrs. Amelia D. Cravath, 2100 Pine Street, Fort Worth, Texas, to the effect that after being a sufferer for years she had been cured by Haley’s Ointment. In the little delta, beside the fan shaped and deeply funneled continent of brown mud, were lost twigs .. . dead matches, a rusty horse-chestnut burr, a small concentration of eggshell, a streak of yellow sawdust .. . a brown pebble, and a broken feather.” Aiken does not need to add commentary, since the very randomness of the objects correlates to the randomness of Paul’s inner disturbance.
On the other hand, every item described in the gutter metaphorically describes Paul’s worsening condition; eczema is an irritating skin condition; a broken feather indicates a bird’s inability to fly; and a broken eggshell may suggest the fractured wholeness of a personality.
The reader should note, finally, that Aiken’s consummate usage of the whiteness of the snow may indicate the annihilation of Paul’s consciousness. This whiteness joins with the cascade of sibilating S’s at the end of the story to convey Paul’s descent into madness.
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.