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Shadows on the Snow: A Christmas Story

III. Summary of Shadows on the Snow

III. Summary of Shadows on the Snow

The novel is set out into three parts. Part I is called, "How the Shadows Appeared at Warleycombe, and What They Said and Did." This section of the novel is set in Devonshire (now Devon), England. Stephen Winkworth, a very disagreeable character, is standing at his door before he was to spend Christmas Eve with his friends and neighbors at Warleycombe Lodge, the house of his childhood friend, Reuben Harrild. Before Stephen goes to the party, the novel introduces William Fairfield and Doctor Bax, both of whom are on their way to the Christmas Eve party. William is described as being "daring, impulsive, and ambitious" (Farjeon 4), and therefore not suited to the "life of a small country farmer" (4). The three discuss William’s engagement to Reuben Harrild’s daughter, Laura, who is the reason William is staying to live in the countryside. Stephen’s untoward attitude starts to be revealed when he gives William a strong warning about being betrayed by Laura. Stephen’s daughter, Alice, then comes into the story and the reader finds out that she is maimed and deformed. The reader can understand that Alice’s pain is translated onto Stephen’s temperament as emotional pain while she wishes that they could all be joyous at the Christmas celebrations. Also it is Stephen’s fault that Alice is deformed after the angry rage he went into after his wife cheated on him. Part I continues at Warleycombe Lodge with all the festivities, and more characters are introduced who are all mingling. At the party, William talks to Laura about his past desire to sell the farm to Stephen Winkworth and work on the gold colonies for the excitement. They are standing at the window watching the snow, when William notices the "shadow of a man" (25), but Laura begs him not to go outside to question him and then hurries out of the room. After Stephen Winkworth tells William that he saw Laura with the shadow of another man, William decides to go out into the snow to see for himself. This is when he began to see an infinite number of snow-shadows including the shadows of Faith, Doubt, and Remorse. William is shown what his life looks like when he keeps faith, what it looks like if he continues to be doubtful, and then the shadows warn him about the remorse he will feel if he continues on this path. However, William sees Laura meet the shadow of a man, and so sells his farm to Stephen and leaves England to work on the goldfields in New Zealand for the betrayal he feels.

On describing the shadows of Faith, Doubt, and Remorse that appear before William, and show him his fate pertaining to each shadow, the reader is reminded of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future that appear before Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. It is the "shadows" and ghosts that spark turning points in the lives of the main characters. The shadows lead to William Fairfield leaving England to work in the goldfields in New Zealand, and the ghosts lead Scrooge to be a better person. Then we also have the comparison of Stephen Winkworth having a similar harsh countenance as Ebenezer Scrooge and the deformed daughter of Stephen Winkworth plays a similar role to that of Tiny Tim. Stephen Winkworth’s daughter has the same positivity, especially around Christmas, as Tiny Tim did in "A Christmas Carol". The difference is of course that the daughter is not dying of an illness and is instead dwarfed with a hunchback. (Stephen Winkworth does not care for Christmas at all, much like Scrooge does.

Part II is called, "The Shadows in the Snow Ranges." This section takes the reader to a tent pitched in a gully in the Otago goldfields. The reader is briefly introduced to the group of four diggers, which includes William Fairfield. A brief explanation is provides for William’s being there; that he felt so betrayed by his belief that Laura had been cheating on him, that he sold his farm to Stephen Winkworth and took off to the Otago goldfields. While there is a snowstorm keeping the group in their tent, Cornish Tom tells them all a story about his past experience working as a gold digger with Cranky Bill. Cornish Tom tells the group about Cranky Bill’s wife and daughter, and how he had to leave them to work on the goldfields. The story continues with Cranky Bill having to bring his daughter with him after his wife died, and so Cornish Tom joined him in finding work by travelling to different gullies. Cornish Tom tells them about the conflict they had with Teddy the Tyler, their neighbor at a gully they had settled at. Cranky Bill’s daughter, Lizzie, eventually goes missing. Both Bill and Tom search over two days for her, before they find her having fallen to her death in a hole. During the storm and the telling of the story, the group is interrupted multiple times by what sounds like cries for help out in the gully. After Cornish Tom has finished telling the story, they decide that three of them should venture into the storm to attempt to trace a way to the next gully while William stays behind to look after the tent. As he waits, William hears more cries for help. He goes into the storm where he finds the bodies of two dead men. He soon realizes that one of these men is Laura Harrild’s brother, after finding a photo of Laura on his person. William found a letter from Laura that explained that it was her brother she was with on the previous Christmas Eve at Warleycombe Lodge, and that she had not betrayed him. William realizes the significance of the snow shadows on that night, and resolves to travel back to England.

Part III is called, "Christmas Again at Warleycombe." This part of the novel is set at Warleycombe Lodge on the following Christmas Eve to Part I. Laura is reminiscing about William, wishing that he had never left. The guests at the party are there again, as they were from the preceding year. The reader finds out the guilt that Stephen Winkworth feels, since he knows the true reason for William Fairfield leaving the previous Christmas Eve. Laura then tells her father the reason that William had left, and that she had been with her brother, Arthur, that night, to seek Reuben’s forgiveness for him. During the conversation at the party among the guests, it is brought to attention that a group of forty men died in the snow on the Colonies in New Zealand. Laura instantly feared for William and Arthur. Stephen’s guilt ensues as he witnesses the constant pain that Alice is in. Alice then pulls her father aside, and asks him about the little he has talked of her mother. This is the moment that Stephen feels the most pain. He is reminded of how Alice’s mother deceived him, and the anger that he felt as a result caused him to maim his own daughter. The story then continues with the return of William Fairfield, as well as Arthur, after having been saved by William in the snow before he died. William vows to always have Faith in Laura, and will continue to banish Doubt forever.