1. Again the memory of those days swept over him like a nightmare . . . The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn’t real snow. If you didn’t want it to be snow, you just paid some money.
These sentences, which come near the end of the story, complicate our understanding of Helen’s death. Marion strongly implies that Charlie was responsible for his wife’s demise, and she scoffs at his explanation that Helen died of heart trouble. Her scornful reaction affects Charlie strongly, but it isn’t clear whether the accusation fills him with anger or guilt. This passage gives the impression that Charlie blames himself, at least to some degree. At the zenith of those wild days in 1929, men like Charlie felt like gods. They imagined that they controlled the entire world, even the weather itself. Thoughtless actions didn’t seem to have real consequences, and it was inconceivable that someone could be hurt by the cold. You could pay for everything else, Charlie thinks sarcastically, so of course you could pay to make real snow imaginary. The bitter tone of this passage, with its angry repetition of the word snow, suggests that only now does Charlie realize that such ideas were dangerous.