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Compare and Contrast the Use of Snow in "The Dead" and "Snow Country"

Snow Country is probably the masterpiece of one of the Japan's most respected authors, Yasunari Kawabata. It is the story of a love affair between Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante and Komako, a hot spring geisha. Kawabata can very rightly be called the master of imagery. Throughout the novel he employs beautiful descriptions, especially when he describes the pure white landscape that forms the backdrop to the love affair. In James Joyce's, The Dead, the use of snow imagery is less yet it leaves a profound and lasting effect in the end. Both the authors use the snow imagery to describe vividly the settings and to serve as a 'memory' of the characters' wasted efforts and lost loves.

As Kawabata writes,

--- Shimamura glanced at her, and immediately lowered his head. The white in the depths of the mirror was the snow, and floating in the middle of it were the woman's bright red chicks. There was an indescribably fresh beauty in the contrast. Was the sun already up? The brightness of the snow was more intense, it seemed to burning icily. (Lawall Pg, 48)

It is here that the reader appreciates the true, inner beauty of Komako. She was a geisha just on the surface, her heart was as pure as snow but unfortunately, even the man she most passionately loved could not help her. Kawabata uses the snow imagery as a tool for characterizing Komako, whose feelings and emotions turned as cold as snow towards the end of her relationship with Shimamura, who knew Komako's love for him was real but still could not give himself fully to her. Like the snow country itself, the landscape of their hearts is sparse, yet life lies under the surface covering of insulation.

"From the gray sky, frame by the window, the snow floated toward them in great flakes, like white peonies. There was something quietly unreal about it." (Lawall pg, 149)

Again it can be seen that Kawabata uses snow here to represent Shimamura's seemingly complete yet unreal life and Komako's honest, yet gloomy life.

In contrast to Kawabata's Snow Country, James Joyce uses snow in The Dead as a symbol of an impending gloom and loss that Gabriel Conroy feels for himself and for his loved ones too, particularly his aunt Julia and his wife, Gretta. As the events unfold in the story, we see that as Gabriel learns about Gretta's past romance, his heart that was burning with the fire of passion for Gretta, grew as cold as the snowy climate in which the story is set. As Joyce writes,

--A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight..... 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 slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. (Lawall Pg, )

Here Joyce uses snow very suggestively to show the way Gabriel became overwhelmed by the burden of the past, overwhelmed by the realization of his misery, overwhelmed by the loss of a love that was once his only consolation.

In my opinion, both the snow country and the dead revolve around love and loss of love, and the snow imagery suggests this in various ways in the two stories. There does not seem to be any striking dissimilarity between the two, as far as the use of snow by the authors is concerned. The characters of both stories experience and echo their inner feelings and thoughts about their life, which is generally gloomy and somewhat mysteriously still, like snow.

Works Cited

Sarah Lawall. The Norton Anthology Of World Literature. Second Edition.W W Norton & Co Inc; (July 2003)