Short Story Hunters in The Snow by Tobias Wolff

Categories: Short Story

One fundamental question relevant to any society or group is: “Who will be in charge?” The most common solution has been to establish a stable, impartial government, with few people having power over and representing the interests of an aggregate of citizens. In much smaller groups, however, power is characterized more by individuals vying for dominance and authority through hostility resulting from a lack of cooperation and understanding of each other. These divided groups are oftentimes hierarchical with certain members temporarily in control of others, only for victims to gain supremacy in the future.

Such a situation is described in “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff, where three men, named Tub, Frank, and Kenny, search for game on a harsh, snowy winter day while constantly bickering with each other, with Tub being singled out for his obesity. Eventually, Kenny, who initially dominates, is severely wounded and forced to the mercy of his former friends by a gunshot from Tub. In the short story “Hunters in the Snow,” Tobias Wolff utilizes the setting of a barren, frigid, and snowy landscape, the ironies behind the actions and downfall of Kenny, and the conflict between the hunters and their surroundings and Tub’s internal conflict regarding his propensity to overeat to illustrate that power disequilibrium within a group primarily targets its weakest members.

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One of the most defining features of this short story that contributes to its theme is its setting: a cold, homogeneous, and deserted natural environment. The freezing temperatures in which the hunters interact reflect their cold-hearted and dispassionate friendship, especially between Tub and Kenny, who consistently disagree and argue over trivial matters.

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Just as the weather in this story is unrelenting for those unfit to survive in it, both Kenny’s cruel mockery of Tub – whose plump physique is compared to a “beach ball with a hat on” (Wolff 87) – and Kenny’s implied demise after Tub and Frank take “a different turn a long way back” (Wolff 99) denote the negative effects of power polarization on the weakest members in a group due to the failure of the hunters to set their differences aside and unite as a trio.

Additionally, the apparent scarcity of life and fertility throughout the barren landscape – where there was “no edge to the land where it met the sky” (Wolff 87) – mirrors the ambiguity of how the three men formed their divided companionship in the first place (Hannah). Although the hunters know each other’s friends and family members, as revealed when Tub and Frank discuss the latter’s infidelity and pedophilia (Wolff 96-97), no further background information about the basis for their friendship is given, thus making the story “a minimalist portrayal of three men in pursuit of game in a world of whiteness that is lifeless and inhospitable” (Hannah), leaving readers to speculate about the origins of the hunters’ relationship. As such, the setting, devoid of life and therefore unsuitable for hunting, further emphasizes the frivolity of the hunters’ power struggles and the consequences for those most defenseless from them during their even more fruitless hunt.

The shift in power that accompanies the conflict between Tub and Kenny occurs through various instances of situational irony. Kenny’s behavior is ruthlessly antisocial and authoritarian as he exerts his influence over Frank and Tub without remorse. The main irony within the story manifests after Tub shoots Kenny, so that Tub is now “full of a newfound power to alter his position in the triangular relationship” (Hannah) from his misinterpretation of Kenny shooting an elderly dog – not mercilessly, as Tub assumed, but because its owner “would have done it” (Wolff 93) but didn’t “have a gun” (Wolff 93). Kenny’s downfall illustrates the irony of Tub’s accidental, yet violent seizure of leadership over the man who once verbally abused and essentially controlled Tub.

Likewise, following Kenny’s conflict with Tub, his status as a weakened, helpless man as Tub and Frank escort Kenny to the hospital further highlight the role of irony in forming the theme of the story. As Tub and Frank warm up and converse at their first stop en route to the hospital, the vehicles parked outside have “deer strapped across their hoods” (Wolff 95). Similarly, “the seriously wounded Kenny is ignored in the bed of the pickup” (Hannah), thus indicating the role of power imbalance amongst the threesome on the irony of Kenny’s resemblance to the hunted animals despite Kenny’s prior control over the group and his intention to hunt. All the while, Frank has been depicted as an opportunist, siding with whoever appears to be the most dominant and unhesitant in changing his allegiance when he sees fit. At first, Frank is equally disrespectful as Kenny is to Tub as he orders Tub to stop complaining and asserts that Tub hasn’t seen his “own balls in ten years” (Wolff 88).

After Kenny is shot, however, Tub effectively employs the confidence and power he has gained from shooting Kenny and “physically forces Frank to take notice of him again” (Hannah) as they prepare to transport Kenny to the hospital, causing Frank to switch sides. Ultimately, Frank discloses his extramarital affair to Tub, who in turn divulges that “his eating problem is not glandular but simply gluttony” (Hannah), thus allowing them to reconcile, form a friendship based on mutual trust, and “cruelly overlook the bleeding victim who now inhabits Tub’s former position on the periphery of the friendship” (Hannah). Frank’s personality and actions underscore the shift of loyalty within a group where power concentration is dynamic and how it affects its most vulnerable members.

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Short Story Hunters in The Snow by Tobias Wolff. (2022, Jun 26). Retrieved from

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