Snow Was General: Broadening the Perspective
It’s a snowy day here in central Ohio. Big, wet flakes drift down from the sky. The snow piles up on rooftops and driveways and sidewalks. It clings to the branches of evergreen trees. It’s as if a blanket has been thrown over the world. All is eerily quiet.
This type of snow always reminds me of the end of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” Snow was general all over Ireland. This somber, and yet simple, observation signals the move in the last paragraph of the story from Gabriel’s consciousness to a more omniscient perspective. By this point, Gabriel’s wife, Gretta, has told the story of her young love, Michael Furey, and how long ago, despite the illness he was suffering, he stood in the rain and declared his love for her, told her, in fact, that he did not want to live. Then she told him to go home, which he did, and a short time later, he died. That story, and Gretta’s accompanying sadness, has shaken Gabriel to the point that he feels the press of mortality: One by one, they were all becoming shades. He feels his own identity, of which he had been so sure throughout the story, fading into obscurity. This is the point where Joyce lets the point of view move from Gabriel’s consciousness into the larger world:
Yes, the newspapers were right; snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned as he heard the snow falling through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Sometimes the end of a story can take on added resonance when we place the main character’s interior life within the context of the world around them. Once we know how the character’s personal world has shifted, we can widen the camera’s lens to give a broader perspective that can underscore the thematic concerns of the narrative.
This certainly isn’t a requirement for each story, but it is a technique you can try to see what resonance it might add. So, if you’d like to try it, take the end of one of your stories (or a novel, if you wish) and see what happens if you find a way to turn the focus on the main character’s interior world toward a consideration of a particular place. In the case of “The Dead,” it’s Ireland and all its particulars, starting with the dark central plains and arriving, finally, at the churchyard where Michael Furey is buried. See if this technique can lead you to a deepening of your story’s thematic concerns and maybe even express them in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
Love this, Lee. ❤️
Thanks, Gail. I hope everything is good down your way.