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Analysis of Tobias Wolff's "hunters in the Snow"

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Analysis of Tobias Wolff’s “Hunters in the Snow”

Being rooted in our primitive nature, the desire to obtain power influences all of our societal systems, interpersonal relationships, and human’s relationship with nature. The need to establish dominance is a long-time standard of animal hierarchies to obtain nourishment, security and influence. Dominance and power are abundant themes in Tobias Wolff’s “Hunters in the Snow,” which displays subthemes of neglect, friendship and cruelty through three elements of fiction: suspense, conflict, and surprise.

First, Wolff employs the use of suspense to anticipate the transfer of power from one character to another, and to direct the reader’s sympathy to the character being neglected. Though Tub is the first character to be introduced to us, he is almost immediately depicted as the weakest member of the group. Our sympathy lies with him from the moment he nearly gets plowed by Kenny’s truck (par. 3). Tub is exasperated and sure his life had been threatened, but he approaches the vehicle to find his two hunting buddies buckled over in laughter. Kenny’s prank, and their laughter afterward, is the first sign in this story that cruelty or malice will be disguised as teasing, and that the powerful will gang up on the weak. As is the case with this violent prank, however, these harmless “jokes” often harbor real, suspenseful danger. There are some instances, such as Tub being abandoned in the woods, where that danger is less overt. When Wolff leads us to believe that Tub has been left behind, that danger is isolation, which is just another tool used to establish dominance. By fighting through the snow and quickening his pace until his heart pounds and his face is flushed, Tub exhibits a desperation to be accepted by Kenny and Frank. Ultimately the dangers become not only violent, but life-threatening, and as the story progresses, suspense shifts the reader’s allegiance from Tub to Kenny. Frank and Tub leave a shot and wounded Kenny in the truck in the middle of winter, so they themselves can warm up and enjoy a cup of coffee (par. 166). In this moment it is unclear what will happen to Kenny – if he will bleed out or if the cold exposure will put him at risk of hypothermia. What is clear is that neither Tub nor Frank seem to be concerned. They chat about Frank’s love life, finish their coffee, recklessly forget the directions on the table (par. 209) and stop yet another time to discuss Tub’s food addiction, warm up with the hand dryers, and order pancakes (par. 224). During each stop, Kenny is left in the truck, growing weaker every moment. This continuous display of neglect illustrates that neither Tub nor Frank feel any sense of urgency to tend to Kenny’s medical needs.

Second, conflict is dispersed heavily throughout Wolff’s story to emphasize both the benefits of being boss and the misfortunes of being the underdog, as well as subthemes of neglect and cruelty. In this story, conflict is displayed through dominance, with one character trying to assert power over the others. Fat jokes are tossed around relentlessly at Tub’s expense. Tub is likened to a “beach ball with a hat on” (par. 4), prodded about his diet that makes him gain weight (par. 31), and mocked that he hasn’t “seen [his] own balls in ten years” (par. 34). His insecurity is weaponized, thus driving him to keep eating out of despair and loneliness. When Tub struggles to fight through the deep snow, or climb through the wired fences, Kenny and Frank watch him struggle rather than help him (par. 27). This is suggestive of the bystander effect, where people recognize but do not intervene in situations which require their help. So exclusion, not just argument, exemplifies conflict in Wolff’s story. Frustrated that the hunt has not gone the way he planned, Kenny explodes at Frank and Tub, calling them “hippie” and “dimples,” respectively (par. 67), then shooting at a pole, a tree, and the farmer’s dog. At the time, Kenny’s explosion of temper demonstrates that man is a threat to nature. Although, later in the story we realize the farmer had asked Kenny to shoot the dog, and Kenny used it as an opportunity to appear aggressive and display his dominance. A change of alliance occurs shortly after, which causes a new tension or conflict between Kenny and the others, rather than Tub against the others. This shift begins when Frank admits to Tub that he did nothing wrong by shooting Kenny, and that he really did deserve it (par. 151). After this shift it is Tub and Frank who solidify their loyalty to each other, and Kenny who falls to the lowest of ranks. Thereafter his needs are no longer considered, and his fate is subject to the will of two self-serving and power-hungry men.

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