Cognitive load theory concerns the limited capacity of the brain to absorb new information. The availability of working memory has long been identified as a critical aspect of an instructional design. The cognitive era in psychology, formulated a theory of internal rules and symbolic representation which was posited as an account of human architecture. This concept was at its peak during 1970’s and 1990’s. The unreliability of memory is the central theme in Winter.
It is depicted less an accurate recollection of the past and more as a kind of personal mythology.
While each character in the novel believes that his/her memories are the truth, the influence of longing for a better or happier time in the past and his/her difficulties empathizing with others alter his/her images of the past. This becomes a suitable reason for creating conflicts within the Cleve’s family, particularly between the sisters Sophia and Iris, only accepting the fragile, ethereal nature of memory where he/she begins to resolve this tension.
Nothing is more cyclical in Smith’s half-finished quartet of seasonal novels than history, condemned to repeat itself over and over. Arthurian legend foreshadows Shakespeare, which predicts the horrors of World War II, whose traumas portend the anti-immigrant sentiment that led to Brexit. Somehow, there’s comfort as well as despair in the patterns of humanity. Arthur, a character in Winter, at one point cites the story of Cymbeline, “the one about poison, mess, bitterness, then the balance coming back. The lies revealed.
The losses compensated”(315). If darkness is constant in history, so is the renewal also.
Smith is conducting a remarkable experiment: responding to current events in something like real time, and creating works of fiction that are also kaleidoscopic investigations of British art and identity. Winter is set later that year, after the election of Donald Trump, in a political climate that seems even more chaotic. “God was dead: to begin with,” (3) is how Smith begins. Romance is also equally dead, as are chivalry, poetry, jazz, realism, records or events, decency, and family values. This bleak introduction is soon revealed to be one of Smith’s authorial tricks. She is not lamenting the state of modern civilization as much as tabulating results that come up for different search terms.
It is a whimsical beginning that sets the tone for the rest of Winter, which leaps from surrealism to myth and from myth to the mundane. The character Sophia Cleves wakes up on Christmas Eve and says good morning to a disembodied head, which has been hovering in her presence for the last four days. The head is gentle, nonverbal, but insistent, bobbing around in Sophia’s sightline and tapping on the window when she tries to shoot it out of the house. It is “the size of a real child’s head, a smudged, dusty child streaked with green,”(19) and when it sleeps, “lacy green growth” settles around its mouth and nose. Sophia, a cantankerous old woman, is not afraid of the head; she treats it with infinitely more kindness than she does any of the attached heads in her sightline.