“Hunting in the snow” is a short story by American writer Tobias Wolff. The plot revolves around three friends who go on a hunting expedition in the same location that they had for two years been. The story opens with Tub whose name we later learn fits his tubby appearance is picked by his inconsiderate friends. He is vexed that they had made him wait in the biting cold but both quickly dismiss him curtly. From the beginning, he is portrayed as the weak in the trio and all his suggestions including a change of the hunting ground are rudely ignored. We also realize that the three friends are hiding a secret from Tub who is again told to mind his business by Frank over a certain babysitter. He suffers as he tries to catch up with his friends who seem better suited to tackle the weather’s ravages. His tribulations are multiplied when he misses the deer’s tracks at a time when the tempers are already flaring. Tragedy strikes the group when Tub accidentally shoots Kenny who was joking around with his gun. What follows is almost surreal as we observe the inhuman side of Frank and Tub. As they take Kenny to hospital, they make two stops in taverns to warm themselves while their friend suffers at the back of the pick-up. As the play ends, the narrator tells us that the two friends have missed the route which spells doom for the badly injured Kenny. The story centers largely on the complex issue of human nature.
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Human nature refers to the code of behavior that provides standards or norms for humans. It also assumes that human life follows a pattern set in accordance with nature (Strauss 92-93).The three friends are portrayed as people with a close history having been hunting buddies for two years in the past. However, the laughter and jokes that Kenny and Frank exchange at the expense of Tub turn to be a visage for a deep resentment that surprisingly runs in all the three. At the beginning, Kenny is portrayed as an insensitive and ruthless bully who almost hits his friend just for make fun. He is also not bothered that his friend has been suffering in the cold for over an hour. This reveals that though thy are ready to tolerate each other, they still harbor other negative emotions deep within. The author also introduces nature to explicitly show the idea of nature versus nature. The play evokes the primitive instinct in the three friends when faced by the ruthless weather. Their frustrations show clearly in their edginess which results in a failed hunting outing.
To clearly understand the theme, we need to observe some of the techniques the author uses. Characterization plays a very major role in revealing the ambivalence of human nature. The writer does not directly expound on the characters attributes but gives the reader a chance to discover this through their utterances and actions. When we meet Tub, he seems to be the antithesis of his friends. He is the victim of their pranks and takes it calmly. Before the hunt he is also portrayed as farsighted when he suggests a new site for hunting though he is quickly dismissed. Kenny on the other hand appears as the ruthless jester. However, as the plot unfolds, we are shown the dark side of Tub when he shoots Kenya and later ignores his pain. Frank on the other hand appears to be so intuitive especially about nature. He is touched when Kenny kills the poor dog. However all this changes when he takes the controlling seat after the shooting. He suggests the detour into the two taverns as his bosom friend suffers at the back of the truck. He also makes fun of Kenny though he was earlier very close to him. His revelation to Tub about his relationship with underage girls also shows a dark side of the character that seemed the most rational of all the three. His argument about the categorization of people by Tub is just a rationalization to save face over his disgusting behavior. He also suggests denying Kenny the blankets while they find him sprawled again on the pick up’s body.
Dialogue is also widely used as stylistic device to help understand the theme of human nature. Through some of the conversations between the characters, we learn of the two sided ways of their human nature. What they say is not what they actually think and most of the dialogue is laced with lies. In one conversation, Frannk dismisses his later to be buddy Tub:
“Is there anything bothering you, Frank?”
“What did Kenny mean about the babysitter?”
“Kenny talks too much, “Frank said. “You just mind your business.”
This later turns out to be a lie as he reveals about the desire to leave his wife Nancy for Roxanne Brewer the babysitter. Later on, it is Tub’s turn to lie to Frank, who remorsefully regrets his utterances,
“What do you know about fat,” Tub asked,” …about glands?”
“Alright,” Frank said. We later learn that Tub had an eating disorder and only used the glands as a cover up. The author tries to juxtapose the two sides of these friends to portray what happens in the human psyche when faced with uncertainties.
Lastly, the author employs dark humor as a literary device to show the complexity of human nature. From the beginning, we are treated to humorous situations which still communicate more intricate details. Kenny almost kills his friend at the beginning of the story for no reason at all. The truck misses Tub by a whisker but the sarcastic friend doesn’t see anything wrong. When the three move to the freezing fields, they poke fun at Tub’s weight and his clumsiness. At one time, Frank tells him he is a man while Kenny betrays his friend’s secret over the babysitter. Friends as we are later told are supposed to trust each other but among these there is no trust. The old man is in the house is portrayed as stoic even after being told someone was shot. Though he seems tough, he couldn’t ironically face shooting his dog. It is a paradoxical situation that can only be the human nature.
In conclusion, we can argue that Tobias Wolf was trying to present the ambiguity of human nature through the three characters. The struggle between nature and the human characters is meant to show how fragile the human emotions are under duress.