Through a child’s eyes, the significance of death and all that surrounds it is somewhat different from the reality. ‘Snowdrops’ is narrated by a boy of the age of six, who actively takes note of the everyday happenings or abnormalities around him but who is not yet old enough or learned enough to associate these with the feelings and responsibilities of adults. One cold March morning (note that the cold weather is significant as it deliberately outlines the community’s feelings about the young man’s death) the boy overhears his parents talking about a death at breakfast time. His father enters the room and “fills it with bigness”, emphasising the seemingly superior position of adults in the view of a child.
The boy’s father tells his family of the incident in which the boy, whose family they are in contact with, lost his life. He claims that “the Meredith boy” was “friendly” with one of the teachers at his son’s school. Without the boy realising, his mother has to warn his father not to give away too much information – the teacher involved is the boy’s own class teacher and the mother intends to protect her son from the realisation. Luckily, their son fails to make the connection from his father’s mispronunciation of the teacher’s surname (“Webber”) to his own teacher, Miss Webster. This is an example of the adult world – parents having to look forward in advance to keep their young children protected.
It becomes apparent to the reader that the boy is besotted with the idea of his teacher having promised to take the class to see the newly-sprung spring snowdrops. He has never seen the flowers before, and can scarcely imagine them; only as “one flake of falling snow, bitterly frail and white, and nothing like a flower”. On this day, the day of the Merediths’ boy’s funeral, Miss Webster arrives late, obviously in a great deal of emotional distress. The boy, having noticed her black dress and lack of jewellery, fails to associate her appearance and previous absence with his parents’ talk that morning. He obviously has complete faith in the teacher, as shown in “Everything would be all right…After play they would surely go to see the flowers”.
The boy, whose name we are not told, has a best friend named Edmund Jenkins. The boy obviously has a great deal of respect for his friend, as he seems to be more mature and wise about things. The boy finds Edmund rather amusing. “Edmund was very brave” indicates his fascination. When, at breaktime, the boy is unsure of the filling his mother has provided for inside his sandwiches, he asks Edmund to take a bite and to inform him of the contents. Edmund tells him, “It’s only bacon”, but “the boy was incredulous”. He appears to have more of an innocent sense of wonder than his more mature friend. Again, the boy is in awe of Edmund for having simply seen a snowdrop before and actually witnessed its appearance. “I’ve seen some already, growing in my aunt’s garden”, Edmund tells him.
The reader is aware that the teacher, Miss Webster, copes with physical pain when she traps her finger in a cupboard but does not cry, as noticed by the children – or certainly the boy narrating. The reader realizes that she has stopped herself from showing she was hurt, which is why it was startling that she was wearing a bandage on her wound. When the Merediths’ son dies, however, she is faced with such great emotional pain that she cannot hide it as easily as she could a wounded finger. As with the physical pain, she attempts to hide her suffering from the class but they notice she is upset when she watches the funeral procession and begins to cry.
She has tried to keep both kinds of pain under wraps but is unable to stifle the unhappiness she feels at the death of the Meredith boy – symbolically she can use a bandage to cover the physical pain but there is nothing to hide emotional wounds. However, the boy still sees her as a strong and brave person who is to be relied on and who can be learnt from. This is a strong indication of the differing world of adults and children, as the boy sees his teacher as a courageous and fearless person – she has lived in the world for longer and can therefore be trusted. This is, of course, the reason why it is such a shock to see her so obviously upset by the funeral procession, later in the story. The boy still thinks that Miss Webster did not cry when she hurt her finger because she did not feel pain…in the world of childhood, pain is not a prominent factor of life.
Later in the day, as Norris describes, Miss Webster sets her children some artwork to do – she simply instructs them to “draw whatever they liked”. An older individual would be puzzled by the simple task set, but unbeknown to the children; their teacher is grieving and is feeling too desperately unhappy to teach the class physically. She is described to be “sitting at her desk, her head in her hands”. This is of course not the behaviour of a content person; rather the actions of someone who is mourning and seriously agonized. Still, in order to carry on with the day of teaching, Miss Webster reads her class a story.
She “from time to time turned her head to look at the big clock in the hall”. None of the children realize that this repeated movement would be in order to become aware of the time of the funeral procession. The teacher’s voice “seemed to be hoarser than usual” but the boy does not think to analyze this and therefore cannot come to the realization that his teacher is struggling to conceal her anguish. In the adult world such grievances have to be dealt with alone in order to protect younger generations. The only comment that the boy makes about his teacher’s change in style of voice is that it was “fine when she read the dragon’s bits, but not good for the knight nor the princess”. He simply sees beyond the pain in Miss Webster’s voice and concentrates instead upon the story.
Miss Webster then “shut her book with a snap and stood up”. The alliteration used here is to show the reader her decisive resolution to go and see the snowdrops at this very moment, just as she promised the children. The children are not aware that she has stopped reading at this point in the story in order to get out of the classroom in time to catch the funeral procession on their way past the schoolyard to the cemetery.