What do relationships, storytelling, and memories have in common? Beattie explores this question in her short story, "Snow". The story takes place in the country during winter and describes a past relationship between two lovers. Beattie makes use of a brief, jumpy writing style and several symbols in the story for a threefold purpose. In "Snow", Beattie uses style and symbolism not only to give insight into a past relationship, but to examine the art of storytelling and the elements of human memory.
Beattie's writing style gives insight into a past relationship between two lovers. A large paragraph is used to describe the woman's memory. It is jumpy, but many details are given. She remembers that "in the kitchen, a pattern of white-gold trellises supported purple grapes as big and round as Ping-Pong balls" (114). She also remembers the stories that her visitors told, such as a boy and the ice cream truck and man finding a diamond ring on the beach (114). This shows how much she considered this a special relationship and wanted to hold on to the relationship by capturing very minute details and stories with amazing and happy endings. On the other hand, the man's memory is described briefly without much detail. His memory makes no mention of the wallpaper and he remembers that their visitors "told the same stories people always tell." This contrast shows that the man didn't see their relationship as anything special, it was just another "story" the same as anyone else's. The brevity of the story, less than two pages long, also reflects the fleeting nature of the couple's relationship.
Likewise, Beattie's style examines the art of storytelling. The man states that, "Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of the most of it" (115). This indicates that stories should be short, containing moments and should not be full of every mundane detail of everyday life. The narrator also states that "this is a story, told the way you say stories should be told: Somebody grew up, fell in love, and spent a winter with her lover in the country. This, of course, is the barest outline" (115). This conveys the idea that in general, most stories contain certain basic elements, such as a conflict, and follow a basic outline. For example romantic comedies follow a basic outline: The boy wants the girl, the boy has to overcome obstacles, and the boy gets the girl in the end, or vice versa.
Beattie's style also examines the nature of memory. The story jumps from descriptions of the couple in winter (114-115) to the death of a friend in a future spring (115). This random pattern is reflective of how memories work. One memory can trigger another seemingly unrelated memory. The narrator also states, "People forget years and remember moments" (115). This idea is reflected in the narrative style. The woman's memory puts emphasis on certain details and moments, the chipmunk, wallpaper, snow, etc. (114), rather than on what happened that entire month or year. Also, the discrepancies between the memories of the lovers (114-115) emphasize the fact that people can have different memories of the same event.
Just as Beattie uses style to give insight into a past relationship, storytelling, and memory, she uses symbolism for the same purpose. According to the woman, the chipmunk "ran through the living room. It went through the library and stopped at the front door as though it knew the house well" (114). In contrast, the man sees that the chipmunk "ran to hide in the dark, not simply to a door that led to its escape (115). This contrast gives insight into the lovers' different views on the relationship. The chipmunk represents the woman, who sees herself leaving her lover as an escape after he states "What do you think you're doing in here" (114)? i.e., what are you doing in this relationship? On the contrary, the man sees her as hiding or cowering. The contrasting views about the chipmunk are also indicative of the lovers' differing views in other areas of life and the fact that they do not belong together.
Another symbol in "Snow" is the wallpaper. The narrator states that she "thought of the bits of grape that remained underneath and imagined the vine popping through, the way some plants can tenaciously push through anything (114). The wallpaper works as a symbol in several ways. It symbolizes the covering up of issues in the couples' relationship, which eventually come to the surface. This also symbolizes the dramatic moments that must manifest in storytelling, and finally it symbolizes the fact that repressed memories may eventually come to the surface.
The pool is another symbol that has multiple purposes. The pool is "covered with black plastic that had been stretched across it for winterâ€¦the cover collected more and more water until it finally spilled onto the concrete" (115). Like the wallpaper, the covered pool is symbolic of the covering up of issues in the relationship, as well as repressed memories. Also, water is generally used as a symbol of life. The fact that the water pushes breaks through the lifeless plastic is indicative of the importance of stories to contain a driving force or energy, rather than to be stagnant.
The snow is the most dynamic symbol in the story. The narrator states, "Remember the night, out on the lawn, knee-deep in snow, chins pointed to the sky as the wind whirled down all that whiteness" (115)? White is often symbolic of innocence. The whiteness of the snow indicates that the relationship between the lovers is young and naive. The lovers are "knee-deep" in this young and naÃ¯ve love. Furthermore, the man is described as the "king of snow" (114), and he "remember(s) that the cold settled in stages" (115). This conveys the idea that his love towards her grows cold, just as the snow is cold. Just as the snow covers the ground (114), the couple masks their issues. The snow also works as a symbol for storytelling. The narrator states, "Love, in its shortest form, becomes a word. What I remember most about all that time is one winter. The snow. Even now, saying 'snow,' my lips move so that they kiss the air" (115). Just as snow becomes a word that that captures the love that the woman once had, stories are told with words and symbols that capture important ideas. The fact that snow becomes a word also indicates the fact that memories are triggered by words and "symbols." For example, a piece of clothing may bring up a certain memory in someone. The clothing is symbolic in that it represents something more than what it really is.
Beattie's use of style and symbolism reveal several aspects of a couple's past relationship, while commenting upon the art of storytelling, and examining the nature of memory. Her unique narrative style and use of symbolism work on multiple levels to tie in these main ideas. Just as the lovers' relationship is summed up in "seconds and symbols" (115), so are stories and memories.