Hunters in the Snow Themes
by Tobias Wolff

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In keeping with the hunting theme, the men act according to a natural pecking order. The more physically fit Kenny plays a series of harsh practical jokes on Tub, who is seemingly the weakest member of their trio because of his excessive weight.

As an existential work, “Hunters in the Snow” immerses its characters in an indifferent universe in which the moral signposts have been obliterated, just like the signs on country roads during a winter storm. Such bonds as individuals are able to form under these conditions are necessarily tentative, and they sometimes try to fill this void by consciously adopting the tacit rules of the groups to which they want to belong. At the outset, the hunters have bought into the myth of a rugged individual independence in which rigid personal boundaries are enforced by bullying. Even seemingly close friends are kept at a distance by constant ribbing and a willingness to ridicule their predicaments or shortcomings. Any sign of affection between the men or even basic courtesy is perceived as weakness. The futility of this approach to life is demonstrated by Kenny’s plight at the end of the story; his companions are as out of touch with his suffering as the distant stars over his head.

As an example of reductio ad absurdum, the story takes the typical banter and hard-edged joking that is sometimes part of the bonding experience among a certain class of men to its ridiculous conclusion. The special bonds of friendship developing between the two uninjured men are so unique and highly valued that they do not care that Kenny could die from their neglect. Apparently feeling that the bonding experience is more important than a human life, they do not want the moment to end.