‘Snowfall in Childhood’ by Ben Hecht: Short Story Analysis
‘Snowfall in Childhood’ is a modernist coming of age short story penned by American literary and film personality Ben Hecht. The short story was written in 1934, a year after Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany. The story is about a young American boy of thirteen who discovers love in the form of a young lady called Anna. Anna Jones is two years older than the thirteen-year-old narrator of this story. The story takes place in Wisconsin town. Wisconsin was where the writer Ben Hecht’s family had moved. His family was Jewish and had migrated from their country of Belarus to the USA. In Wisconsin, Hecht attended high school. Hecht would become a screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist, and novelist. But more than just a young adult love story, the story seems to be about a young boy’s innocence and exuberance during a time when dictators were ruling the roost. These dictators were out to start a war, which would have a detrimental effect on many parts of the world. Before the Second World War began, life was tranquil, and people in the USA lived their simple lives. Hecht and Anna would find each other during the Christmas season as they silently admired each other under their elders’ stern gazes.
The title ‘Snowfall in Childhood’ is more intricate than it seems at first. It is not just about Hecht’s experiences during a snowstorm and his love for snow. It is about the ‘snowfall’ of emotions that he would undergo, which would turn him in a matter of hours into an even happier schoolboy with a girl who had taken an interest in him. The story is penned in the simple brushstrokes of beautiful descriptions, a hallmark of Ben Hecht’s writing style. Unlike his other works, there are not that many dialogues in this piece, but the scenery of snow, the season of Christmas, the cozy atmosphere, and the magical season’s charms are evident everywhere in this story.
The story starts with a teenage boy’s fascination with the snow. He thrives in the beautiful sceneries created by a snowstorm through which he walks towards his school. It is a simple life of simple pleasures. Hecht loves snow. He loves the snowdrifts, the smell of snow, and the mystical atmosphere it creates outside in Wisconsin’s environment. We see a change in Hecht’s life as a naïve boy who delights in the snow, which symbolizes innocence but a childish kind. When the Jones family comes visiting along with their daughter Anna, we see a change in how Hecht relates with a young lady who is very cheerful, coy, and full of tenderness, which is the hallmark of puritan styled literature. This puritan piece does not go deep into the sexual feelings of the two teenagers but analyzes how they started to like each other in a way that makes good family reading. I would know that because my school library was stocked to capacity with books of these kinds, I used to gorge on before I discovered more conventional western literature. I spent a lot of my school time reading in the Bombay Scottish School Library instead of attending classes. If you want to know more about my reclusive and introverted life in books and with books, you can check out my memoir on my blog or Amazon. The title of the book is Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai. Do pick it up; it is worth your time. It was a finalist at the 2020 DBW Awards; you can check that blog post out as well for your reference.
So, what we see here is a clean family story about Hecht becoming a young girl’s crush over a game of cribbage in his room. The story of their knees touching and the electricity and excitement passing through Hecht is cute to read. Cribbage, by the way, is a card game, usually for two players, in which the objective is to play so that the pip value of one’s cards played reaches precisely 15 or 31. Hecht had a cribbage set of cards and a board that he set up to play with Anna, whom he fancied. They were the epitome of propriety while playing, apart from the singular fact that their knees were touching. If I were reading this back when I was a teenager, I would have probably got a little excited as well. I’m quite Elizabethan in my behavior around men and anything called love. Anna seems to be in charge of this whole situation. She doesn’t get uncomfortable with the knees touching Hecht and starts to contemplate how to get closer to Hecht. She then, very brazenly, coos into his ears to come for a ride in the Jones’ family snow sleigh or sled to Corliss, where Anna lived with her family. Hecht is confused about what he should do, but he seems to be pulled magnetically by Anna’s image. He decides to go and gets into the hay covered sleigh. The Christmas season’s atmosphere kicks in, and one feels the joy of the season when, as the two sturdy horses are driving the sleigh, Hecht and Anna take one daring step further into their newfound connection by holding hands. As I said, this story is very puritan and very modest, but it matches the beauty and mystery of the short story’s theme titled ‘Snowfall in Childhood’. Anna came into Hecht’s life, which turned into a snowfall of happiness for him. He was so happy to be holding Anna’s hand that he wished to the snow, the stars, and the night sky that the night would never end. Thus, we see a change from childhood innocence to a teenage love interest in this very tender story.
One cannot ignore the delicate way the writer Hecht has very well focused on the child’s perspective in this story. We find the adult characters to be screened off and the focus only on what Hecht as a child sees in the snow and Anna. We see the adults almost as the background score of this story. Even before Anna arrives onto the scene, the snowy landscape that usually writers use as a backdrop is brought to the forefront and dwelled upon in great detail. One would do so to a character, but Hecht does it to the snow and the snowstorm. There are many symbols of his passing years into young adulthood, which we see, like him remembering his young fifth-grade teacher Miss Wheeler and how she was so young that she found it challenging to handle a class. However, since teachers are somewhat closer to children, they too show a fascination for the snow. We notice they keep looking over the heads of their students and stare at the snow. Even the children are more than excited to see the snow – the simple pleasures of children’s lives in those days! Another symbol of his childhood is that he no longer sticks to a teacher’s legs during a snowstorm. He braves the snowstorm and goes home alone even though he feels Miss Wheeler would be worried about him like she used to be worried when he was in her class.
Hecht’s story seemed to signify the Christmas spirit of joy, new beginnings, and pleasant surprises. At first, like every shy schoolboy, Hecht was not comfortable when Jones’ came home for a visit. His demeanor changes immediately he starts taking an interest in the older girl, Anna. He realizes that he no longer hates her aloofness, long sad stares, and calmness. Instead, in that one visit, something in him has changed, and he has started to like Anna. Notice also that there is a telltale mention of Hecht reading an oversized edition of Dante’s Inferno, full of Dore’s nightmarish pictures. Among the most memorable and bewitching reimagines is the celebrated French illustrator, sculptor, printmaker, and engraver Gustave Doré who illustrated Dante’s Inferno, which Hecht was reading. It is not just a coincidence that he was reading Dante; he too symbolically was entering into the ‘hell’ of amour, and as a young boy, Hecht was always found reading the classics. This made him into the tremendous literary personality he became. I have always maintained that the reading of the classics enriches readers of all ages, but especially children. If you are an educator and are trying to get your students to read the classics, you can read my non-fiction how-to book titled Classics: Why and how we can encourage children to read them. It will be very beneficial to read as an educational tool; you can buy it from the products page on my blog or Amazon.
I enjoyed analyzing Ben Hecht’s short story titled ‘Snowfall in Childhood’. It was a charming read that makes me more anxious for the Christmas season to arrive to get my bookish gifts from Santa Claus. I am thirty-one years old, and I still believe in Santa Claus. I live as a recluse away from the world with books as my only friends. I teach, write, and publish books. Check out my website for more information on the books I publish. I hope to read and review more American writers soon. I have many American short story collections stored in my office-cum-writing hut, which I will have to sort through to get my hands on them. It is a hectic life being a recluse!
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books, you can check out the products page on my blog or Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan
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