How does the structure and style convey the meaning of Tobias Wolff's short story "Hunters in the Snow"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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We can analyze a short story for structure by analyzing the type of narrator, analyzing to see if events are told in a chronological order, and by examining such things as action, conflict, and climax. All of the above in a short story help to portray the author's purpose.

The short story "Hunters in the Snow," like many of author Tobias Wolff's works, reveals very existential themes. Existentialism refers to a philosophy that believes in the hopelessness, pointlessness, and futility of life. Wolff particularly captures the futility of life in the absurdity and futility in the characters' friendships. Wolff also builds the structure of his short story in a way that develops these meaningless friendships.

One point of structure concerns the fact that the story is told through an external third-person narrator, not a character within the story. The use of a third-person narrator helps us see the story from an objective point of view rather than from the subjective point of view of one of the characters. The more we are able to look at the story from the outside, the more we are able to see the absurdity of the characters' behavior, whereas the characters themselves are unable to see their own absurdity.

The action in the story is a second aspect of the story's structure that Wolff uses to develop his theme concerning the futility of the characters' relationships. More specifically, action at the very start of the story is used to show that friendship between the three men doesn't truly exist. Action particularly shows how much the two other characters treat Tub, portraying how futile it is for Tub to try and maintain a friendship with them. One example of action that portrays the futility of Tub's friendship with Frank and Kenny, due to their cruelty, concerns the moment they nearly run him over. The narrator expresses the moment of action in the following:

A truck slid around the corner, horn blaring, rear end sashaying. Tub moved to the sidewalk and held up his hand. The truck jumped the curb and kept coming, half on the street and half on the sidewalk. It wasn't slowing down at all.

The narrator ends the action moment by describing that, had Tub remained in the same spot and not run for his life, his so-called friends in the truck would have run over him. His friends' willingness to be so callous about Tub's life, plus the callousness they show towards Kenny's life later in the story, help illustrate Wolff's themes concerning the futility of life and the futility of their friendships.

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