Tobias Wolff’s “Hunters in the Snow” follows the story of three male hunters. The friends are on a hunting trip. The plot focuses on men and their relationships. In the story, there is not so much a struggle for power as a lack of sensitivity in the treatment of one another.
Kenny behaves outside of the expected limits of normal behavior. He is rough, insensitive, and sometimes cruel. His humor is inappropriate and often goes too far.
Tub claims that his weight problems stem from his glands. Often the butt of Kenny’s humor---Tub has had enough of Kenny’s jokes.
Frank shows little emotion. Appearing as rather ineffectual, Frank does not take sides in the problems between Kenny and Tub; however, it is obvious that Kenny offends him as well.
The hunting does not go well. Tub overlooks some deer tracks. The tracks go into land which has a no-hunting sign on it. Kenny and Frank leave to ask permission to hunt. In the end, they lose the deer tracks.
Kenny starts a game. Every time he sees something that he hates he shoots it. When he shoots an old dog tied up in a barn, this does not sit well with Tub. Kenny has been saying that he hates Tub. Frightened that Kenny will shoot him, Tub shoots first hitting Kenny in the stomach.
The men try to get an ambulance to pick up Kenny, but there are none available. They are going to have to take him. Nothing goes well after that.
- The makeshift stretcher is dropped, and Kenny rolls down an incline.
- Frank alludes to Tub’s weight, and Tub shakes him warning him not to make fun of him.
- Kenny has to ride in the truck bed in the cold and snowy weather.
- The two men leave Kenny in the bed and go into a tavern to warm themselves.
- The men continue to drive in the wrong direction away from the hospital.
Frank relates to Tub that the farmer had asked Kenny to shoot the dog because he could not do it himself. Through the conversation between Frank and Tub, the reader begins to see that their friendship grows on the ride to find the hospital.
Oddly, nothing can justify the shooting of Kenny. He had not aimed or attempted to pull the trigger. No warning was given before Tub shot him. Frank tells Tub that he would have done the same. The treatment that the men give Kenny establishes the motif of man’s inhumanity to man when they leave him lying in the cold while they go inside to warm themselves.
The hate game may have been inappropriate, but Tub’s supposed fear that he would be shot by Kenny goes far off the beaten path of logic. Tub overreacted.
All three of the men demonstrate immaturity in their treatment of one another. Tub finally admits that he has been lying to everyone about his weight problem:
That’s the worst of it Frank, not the being fat—I never got any big kick out of being thin, but the lying. Having to lead a double life. I scarf all the way to work…Oreos, Mars bars, Twinkies, Sugar Babies, Snickers….Pretty disgusting…
One of the lessons that the author wants the reader to understand is that there is a little of Tub in all of everyone. He fears everything. Fat, thin, friends, lying, wanting acknowledgement---he reveals that in his emotional reactions he demonstrates a character flaw of using food as a catharsis.
Wolff’s point is that everyone should be sensitive to other people’s feelings—men or women. Everyone has the potential to have his feelings hurt. Be careful in making jokes at someone else’s expense.