Analysis of Tobias Wolff's "Hunters in the Snow"

Updated on April 24, 2012

Quite often it’s the not so life-threatening confrontation with life that we feel most threatened by. The standard of human fear is thus without definition. Everyone lays claim to a different host of particular sensitivities. We all have them, though. Ranging from the emotional to the physical, trepidations fill the void in us humans. They make us. They define us. They control us. There’s no doubt fear constitutes the greatest influence on the everyday person. In the excerpt of Wolff’s Hunters in the Snow, Tub’s fears explicate underlying character traits. From his fear of confronting Kenny and Frank decisively to his fear of death, Wolff indirectly elucidates the fundamentals of Tub’s deceptive streak, anti-combativeness, and child-like sensitivity.

Tub's Deception in Hunters in the Snow:

In an act of desperation, Tub lies about being on a diet. When Kenny inquires about his supposed diet (noticing Tub has not lost any weight but is eating diet type foods) Tub shoots back. “You think I like hard-boiled eggs?” Tub exclaims in defense. Here, Tub’s plan of deceit meets perhaps unpredicted consequences, however, as Frank sneeringly points out that Tub “hasn’t seen his own balls in ten years”, and the two jokesters have a good laugh over Tub’s predicament. Obviously Tub suffers from the constant want to appeal to others, and is willing to use whatever means necessary to be accepted. He fears others. Most likely stemming from the chronic mistreatment he receives from Frank and Kenny on the subject of his weight and ineptitude, Tub has developed a drive to reshape his image. It’s a form of defense, his yearning for love and approval, which has evolved over time in response to environmental factors of abuse. Continuing the act, Tub declares his “glands” are responsible for his physical deformity. And likewise, the two so called friends “double over laughing”. Tub tries to validate his deceit by implying that he has lost weight. “You’re just wasting away before my very eyes”, Kenny sarcastically replies. Indeed, Tub has a problem. Tub lies in a vain attempt at acceptance, but his deficit remains purely the result of Kenny and Frank’s emotional terrorism. While the latter aspect of Wolff’s characterization may present Tub under a film of helplessness, the former no less represents a flaw within Tub. That one should succumb to the wiles of human indecency and emotional terrorism is understandable but not excusable.

Tub Can Only Take So Much Emotional Abuse:

Stemming too from his fear of others is Tub’s anti-combativeness; his inability to fight back in instances of emotional abuse. “I hate you”, Kenny tells Tub after Tub questions his motives for killing the old dog. Then in a sudden change of events, “Tub shot from the waist” and hit Kenny. Here, Tub reacts in a fit of discombobulating tremors. He was scared. He didn’t know how to fight back or attempt to control the situation. Tub “hurried to catch up with Frank” without digressing into one thought of offensive strategy. For most, a consideration of the cliché fight or flight is standard in any threatening situation, but Tub went straight to flight. Did he really think Kenny was going to shoot him?—most likely not. Tub wasn’t thinking clearly and reacted rashly, immaturely, and cowardly when he could have simply confronted Kenny and demanded he put the gun down. In this instance, it seems Tub subconsciously overcompensated for his intrinsic tendency to avert threatening situations. In another example, Tub reveals his anti-combativeness through an outburst of emotional cathartic rage. After an already long bombardment of emotional attacks, Tub weathers another. “You fat moron”, Frank tells Tub, “you aren’t good for diddly”. This time, however, Tub has had enough. His threshold for emotional attacks has been breached, and he reacts accordingly. “What do you know about fat”, Tub tells Frank desperately, “What do you know about me”. “No more talking to me like that” Tub exclaims. Juxtaposing this extremely combative fit with Tub’s taciturnity throughout the entire story (on the subject of his being disrespected), Wolff indirectly shows how Tub’s character naturally seeks to avoid confrontation. Indeed, Tub would have liked to avoid this one. Everyone has a threshold of emotional abuse before they retaliate, however. And Tub’s threshold for abuse remains relatively high.

Tub as the Cliché Weak and Vulnerable Character:

Related to his anti-combativeness and deception, Tub exhibits a strong aura of emotionalism and sensitivity and immaturity. Unlike Frank and Kenny, Tub doesn’t look for opportunities to belittle others. He doesn’t glean any kind of amusement from the sort of sadistic insults Kenny and Frank find humorous. Instead, Tub does his best to weather the insults. Being a sensitive and emotional guy, Tub’s emotions build inside him. He doesn’t do much cathartic confronting of his friends behavior. In fact, Tub is outright scared of Frank and Kenny at times, as evidenced by his firing upon Kenny. No doubt, Tub is sensitive and emotional, but he can be weak and given to complaining at times as well—which constructs a more comprehensive illustration of Tub as a sensitive character. “I waited an hour”, Tub says. In another example, Tub complains he is “cold”. In response to his friends’ concentration on his weight, Tub complains his “glands” fuel his obesity. And in yet another, Tub complains he “had to” shoot Kenny; that Kenny “made” him do it. With the culmination of these examples, Wolff portrays Tub most importantly as being immature and child-like. Sure, Tub comes across sensitive and emotional, but this array of characterizations speaks most clearly on the subject of Tub’s adolescent approach to expressing himself and handling serious situations. And it fits, too. Tub is the stereotypical bullied person, so it logically follows that he is sensitive and weak and emotional and easily penetrated.

The Tub Within Us All:

Like Tub, every one of us has a set of unique characteristics. We may judge each other on the basis of these arbitrary traits, but in consideration of their origin—which is in fact unknown—it seems wholly illogical to do so. And this is exactly Wolff’s point in writing. We all suffer from fear—it just manifests in people differently. Fear of other’s opinion of you. Will they like me? What will they think of me if such and such were to come out? What will happen if I tell them the truth? These are the types of questions we go through daily in our subconscious minds, and it affects everything we do. Some manage to overcome their fears, others struggle with them. These latter types, such as Tub, then suffer from a secondary onslaught of problems. These problems (character flaws) are in response to fear. Emotionalism manifests in people who are fearful of public speaking just as it does in overweight people who “shovel it in”, as Tub so eloquently put it. Sensitivity is manifest in people who are insecure and needing attention just as it is in those who are coy and keep to themselves. The point then being: we are all humans. We all share the same problems and triumphs in our daily lives. Instead of fighting amongst each other, let’s fight with each other—and for each other. Disregarding our differences, let us come together as true friends. Let us come together as one species, full of love and compassion and good-will for each other. Let us join together—forever.

Who is your favorite character?

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    • profile image


      23 months ago

      All three of the characters are emotionally stunted and while they know each other they are not friends. This is shown first by Kenny who makes Tub wait in the cold for an hour and then threatens Frank about the babysitter.

    • profile image

      danyy mckibib 

      2 years ago

      I agree. lol.

    • profile image

      Patricia Ganz 

      2 years ago

      Tubs' insecurities offer nothing other than self interest and a lack of sympathy for anyone else.

      Kenny's attitude is defensive against issues he does not understand. Appears to be quite insensitive.

      Frank seems to be an "average man" with little backbone indicating he is a follower, yet believes he is honest in this respect.

      Disliked every character.

    • profile image

      Luis A 

      2 years ago

      did not understand the last theme the author is trying to tell us at the end of the story when Tub and Frank left Kenny and did not go to the hospital.


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