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 and less distinct each day, and are audible only as the postman draws closer and closer to the Hasleman’s house. Paul speculates about the necessity of keeping this strange knowledge from others and rehearses a family conversation over dinner as if he were practicing a play. Meanwhile, in the classroom, Mrs. Buell talks about the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century search to discover the Northwest Passage. When Paul rouses himself sufficiently to successfully answer a question about Henry Hudson, Deirdre turns in her chair to smile at him with ”approval and admiration.” At last the bell rings for dismissal.
In Part II, Paul is on his way home from school. He thinks about the secret snow and how difficult it is to drag himself out of bed each morning when all he wants to do is stay in bed. For Paul, the world grows increasingly more alien, incomprehensible, and repulsive. For example, he takes inventory of the items in a dirty gutter, and stares at tracks left by a dog in the sidewalk when the cement was freshly poured. He then arrives at his own house and is troubled by the thought that it is the sixth house from the corner, when he had all along supposed it to be the seventh. The house seems strange as he comes inside from the street.
In Part III, after supper, Paul’s parents grow concerned about their son and call in a doctor to examine him. Paul regards the examination as an inquisition, and becomes emphatically defensive. During the exam, Paul hears the secret snow. The pressure of the doctor’s questions forces Paul to admit that his recent state of distraction stems from constantly thinking about the snow. His parents react negatively, and Paul fails to understand the full impact of his revelation.
In Part IV, Paul rushes to his bedroom. The whiteness of the snow has become overwhelming. He now views his mother as a “cruel disturbance,” a hostile intruder as she tries to help him. He rejects her defiantly as he finally slips away:
“Mother! Mother! Go away! I hate you!”
And with that effort, everything was solved, everything became all right: the seamless hiss advanced once more, the long white wavering lines rose and fell like enormous whispering sea-waves, the whisper becoming louder, the laughter more numerous.
“Listen!” it said. “We’ll tell you the last, most beautiful and secret story—shut your eyes—it is a very small story—a story that gets smaller and smaller—it comes inward instead of opening like a flower—it is a flower becoming a seed—a little cold seed—do you hear? we are leaning closer to you—”
The hiss was now becoming a roar—the whole world was a vast moving screen of snow—but even now it said peace, it said remoteness, it said cold, it said sleep.” (Excerpt from “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”)
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.