How is the setting meaningful in "Hunters in the Snow"?
The setting of "Hunters in the Snow" is significant as the snow disguises objects and pathways, and many of the markers and boundaries are hidden. The cold of this environment is also reflective of the unemotional reactions of the two other men to Kenny's injury.
While the three men hunt together, they seem to lack any real fraternity; there are no lines visible, just as the snow covers the earth. In the snowy woods, any warmth that does exist among the men is also covered over. Kenny ridicules Tub for his obesity, Tub lags behind and is not partnered with either of the others, and Frank makes little effort to include Tubs or give him any sympathy. Their selfishness is evinced early in the story as Kenny and Frank do not worry about picking Tub up, and he must wait an hour in the cold. Indeed, there seems to be a camaraderie that is missing in the relationship of the three men whose humor is acrid rather than warm. When they do converse, it is often in sharp retorts to one another.
After being in the forest for some time, Kenny is angered that he has not shot one deer, especially because he gets one each year. In anger he shoots a fence post, saying he hates it. Then, when he turns to Tub and says again, "I hate you," Tub shoots Kenny before Kenny fires his rifle. Wounded in the stomach, Kenny is put into the bed of the truck and covered with two blankets, and Frank and Tub start for the hospital.
However, it is as though Kenny's life does not matter because the two other men stop to eat and spend time in the diner; Frank reveals his impassioned love for the babysitter and Tub confesses to his love of food as he has become a glutton; in the meantime, the badly wounded Kenny lies freezing in the back of the truck. In their self-gratification, the other two men ignore their wounded friend who watches his feet and repeats, "I'm going to the hospital." But the other men have taken a wrong turn long ago in their carelessness, just as the winter environment seems indifferent.
The setting of the story is a winter hunt, and the reader first sees Tub standing in the falling snow, waiting for his "friends" who do not seem to care how late they are. As the story continues, the snow relates to the disconnect between the characters, and their indifference to their real feelings:
The snow was shaded and had a glaze on it. It held up Kenny and Frank but Tub kept falling through. As he kicked forward, the edge of the crust bruised his shins. Kenny and Frank pulled ahead of him...
(Wolff, "Hunters in the Snow," classicshorts.com)
Each character, in their own way, is cold towards the others: Kenny is deliberately cruel, Frank is aloof but approves of Kenny's abuse of Tub, and Tub wants to be accepted but doesn't want to risk offense. In the end, the cold weather is the force that connects Frank and Tub, possibly at the expense of Kenny'a life. This in itself is ironic, because Frank and Kenny deliberately used the cold snow to isolate and insult Tub; now, Kenny is ignored in the cold while Tub and Frank share their secrets.