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PaulaBrown

Children sledding in Massachusetts, 1941.

"Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit" is a coming-of-age short story by the American author Sylvia Plath. It was first published in the spring 1955 issue of the Smith Review, the literary magazine of Smith College where Plath studied. The story was later collected in the anthology Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams which was published posthumously in 1977.

The story takes place in the early days of World War II. The unnamed narrator is a happy and imaginative fifth grader who idolizes Superman and dreams of flying. After Paul Brown's birthday party and an incident involving her favorite present, however, the narrator finds her innocent fantasies lost forever – replaced by the harshness of the real world.

"Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit" is used as a text in English education.

Plot

The narrator of the story is a young woman who grew up in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Although it has been thirteen years since the events of the story took place, the narrator states she can still recall those days clearly.

The story opens in the year the war began. The narrator is in the fifth grade at a public grammar school. She lives near the Logan Airport with her mother and her uncle. Every evening, she kneels by the window of her room watching the flashing lights of the airplanes. Every night, she dreams of flying. In her dreams, her beloved Superman comes in his shining blue suit and his cape to teach her how to fly. He is her idol, and he looks a lot like Uncle Frank.

Superman-Logo

The Superman logo.

Every night, she listens to Superman on the radio with her friend David Sterling. During the day, they make up Superman adventures. They play Superman games during recess, ignoring other children playing baseball and dodge ball. A boy named Sheldon Fein, who gets left out of the boys' games because he cries a lot, plays the villain for them.

The threat of war is everywhere, and they have air raid practice at school. They also have a drawing contest for Civil Defence signs, and the narrator wins the prize beating Jimmy Lane, a boy from her block. On the radio, serious voices talk about the war. The narrator's Uncle Frank says Germans in America are being put in prison, and her mother keeps saying "I'm only glad Otto didn't live to see this."

On Friday just before Christmas, Paula Brown has her birthday party. Paula is stuck up and not very popular, but all the children on the block are invited. Paula shows off her many gifts, including her favorite; a powder-blue snowsuit from Sweden. She also has an angora beret and mittens. After the cake and ice cream, they are driven to the movies. The feature is Snow White, but there is a war picture playing with it. It is about prisoners being tortured by Japanese guards. The narrator is horrified but cannot look away. After the guards begin shooting the prisoners, she runs out to the girls' room and throws up the cake and ice cream. Going to bed that night, she keeps seeing the prison camp in her head. She tries hard to think of Superman, but he never comes to smash those terrible guards.

On Saturday afternoon, the narrator is on her way home from the store when she sees Paula Brown and a couple of other children playing tag in front of Paula's house. Paula stops, looks at the narrator coldly, then asks if she wants to play. She tags the narrator, and the narrator catches Sheldon Fein. There is melted snow and sand from the snow trucks in the street, and also a patch of black oil from someone's car. Then Jimmy Lane comes out and joins in. Every time he is tagged, he chases and catches Paula in her new snowsuit. Then one time, as Jimmy reaches out to tag her, Paula slips in the oil slick. She comes up with her new suit smeared and mittens dripping with black oil.

Paula looks around then suddenly points at the narrator and says "You pushed me." After a second, Jimmy Lane turns and says "You did it." Then everyone joins in the chorus of "You did it." The narrator shouts "I did not!" and walks away, refusing to run. As snowballs begin hitting her from behind, she picks up her pace. After rounding the corner, she begins to run towards her house.

Uncle Frank welcomes her home. He swings her high, and his loving voice drowns out the shouting in her head. She does not talk about the incident. Then at supper, the doorbell rings. Her mother goes to answer the door, and the narrator hears her friend David's voice. When her mother comes back, she looks sad. She asks the narrator why she did not tell her about spoiling Paula's snowsuit.

The narrator says "I didn't do it" and tells her that it was Jimmy Lane. Her mother says slowly that she will believe her but the whole neighborhood is talking about it. People are saying that they should buy Paula a new snowsuit. The narrator denies it again and goes to her room. She shuts the door and lies down on her bed in the dark. She is burning inside.

In a while, Uncle Frank comes up and knocks. She does not answer, but he comes in and sits down on the bed. He assures her softly that she can tell him what really happened. He tells her not to be afraid because they will understand. She replies she already told them the truth and cannot make it any different, not even for him. Uncle Frank gets up with a sigh. He says they will pay for the snowsuit anyway, just to make everyone happy. As he leaves, he adds that no one would know the difference in ten years.

The narrator remembers that, after Uncle Frank walked away, she lay there feeling the black shadow creeping up. The airplanes and blue capes of her fantasies and dreams vanished. That was the year the war began, and the real world began for her.

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