Hunters in the Snow

by

Tobias Wolff

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Hunters in the Snow Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For an hour, Tub has been waiting on the side of the road in heavy snow. One driver nearly stops for him, but before Tub can “wave the man on,” the driver sees Tub’s rifle and speeds away.
Although it initially appears that Tub is hitchhiking, his intention to “wave the man on” shows he’s waiting on the side of the road for a different reason. Tub’s possession of a rifle also raises questions about what it’s for. The truck driver clearly thinks the rifle is for ominous purposes.
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Suddenly, a truck comes sliding around the corner, blaring its horn. Tub waves it down and the truck comes towards him but doesn’t slow down as it mounts the curb, forcing Tub to jump back so that two sandwiches and some cookies fall out of his pockets.
Tub’s wave to the driver suggests that he has been waiting for this truck to arrive. The sandwiches and cookies are the first suggestion of Tub’s unhealthy relationship with food.
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The truck comes to a halt and Tub picks up his sandwiches and approaches the driver’s window. The driver, later identified as Kenny, is laughing hysterically. “He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on,” Kenny says to Frank (the man in the passenger seat), and Frank smiles.
It’s initially unclear if Tub actually knows the driver and passenger of the truck, but Kenny’s teasing comment suggests that the three men are friends. In calling Tub “a beach ball with a hat on,” Kenny suggests that Tub is overweight, which may also be why he’s called Tub.
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Telling the men that they could have killed him, Tub gets in the car, causing Frank to slide over to the middle seat. Frank reasons that Tub should be “mellow,” since Kenny was simply kidding around, but Tub continues, saying that the men are also an hour late in picking him up. Frank scolds Tub, telling him that he hasn’t “done anything but complain since we got here.” When Tub doesn’t protest, Kenny hits the road.
It is immediately clear that the three friends have a lopsided friendship, as Frank and Kenny waste no time in ganging up on Tub. This moment also introduces Kenny and Frank’s tendency to disguise their cruelty as teasing. Frank’s position in between Kenny and Tub is also important, as Frank is often “in the middle”—caught between his competing allegiances to Kenny and Tub.
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The truck is freezing because the heater doesn’t work and the windshield has been broken by “juvenile delinquents,” who hurled a brick through it. Keeping warm with blankets, the men head “deep into the country,” outside of Spokane, passing a desolate, motionless landscape. To warm up, they stop twice for coffee before they arrive at the woods in which Kenny wants to hunt—a location they’ve hunted twice before and come up empty handed, but which they’re trying again despite Tub’s desire to try a new spot.
The icy conditions slow down the men’s trip—making them stop for coffee twice on the way—hinting at nature’s power over humans. Meanwhile, Kenny’s failure to fix his broken window before the hunt introduces the theme of neglect, which will resonate throughout the story. This is also a notable instance of Tub’s powerlessness—he has no say over where they hunt, which shows that Kenny and (to some extent) Frank call the shots.
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When they arrive at the woods, Tub says that he’s cold and Frank tells him to “stop bitching” and “get centered.” Kenny mocks Frank for using the word “centered,” and Frank tells Kenny that he talks too much. “Okay,” Kenny responds, “I won’t say a word. Like I won’t say anything about a certain ‘babysitter.’” Tub asks who they’re talking about, but Frank looks at Kenny and says it’s “between us” and “confidential.” Kenny laughs, and Frank tells him, ominously, that he is “asking for it.”
Frank’s comment that Tub needs to “get centered” suggests that Frank is somewhat of a hippie. However, instead of spreading love and peace, he rudely tells Tub to “stop bitching.” Kenny’s comment about the babysitter makes clear two dangers of secrets: they can be used to exclude (as Kenny and Frank have done with Tub) and they can also be weaponized, as happen when  Kenny punishes Frank for saying he talks too much by threatening to tell his secret.
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The three of them set off towards the woods. Tub, who is less nimble than Kenny and Frank, finds it difficult to get through fences and the snow, but instead of helping him, they watch Tub struggle. By the time they’re ready to hunt, Tub is “puffing.”
Once again, it is implied that Tub is overweight, as he struggles to hoist himself over the fences. Kenny and Frank neglect Tub, even though they see that he is clearly struggling. This is one of the many instances in which people notice but fail to react to situations that require their help.
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After two hours and no sign of deer, they stop for lunch by a creek. Tub eats only an egg and a stick of celery because he is trying to lose weight. Kenny teases Tub for being on a diet, and Frank, much to Kenny’s glee, tells Tub that he so fat that he hasn’t “seen [his] own balls in ten years.” Tub replies that he can’t help being fat: “It’s my glands.”
Instead of eating the two sandwiches and cookies that he had in his pockets earlier, Tub eats a meager lunch, possibly to fend off Kenny and Frank’s comments about his weight. Demonstrating their insensitivity, Kenny and Frank proceed to tease Tub about his diet and weight, which he’s clearly self-conscious about. 
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After lunch, they leave the woods and start hunting along a creek, looking for tracks. They split up, Kenny and Frank on one bank and Tub alone on the other. In an effort to keep up with Frank and Kenny, Tub stops looking for tracks. Realizing that that he has lost sight of his friends altogether and hearing only Kenny’s distant laughter, Tub speeds up, fighting through the snow and breathing hard. Eventually, Tub catches up with them at a bend in the creek, where Frank and Kenny have stopped. Frank asks Tub if he has seen anything, and Tub shakes his head.
The men’s spatial separation mirrors the way that their friendship plays out on a grander scale. During the hunt, Kenny and Frank go one way while Tub goes another, just like how Kenny and Frank frequently gang up on and exclude Tub. In this moment, Tub gets increasingly anxious while separated from his friends, suggesting his nervous nature and his desperate desire to be accepted by Kenny and Frank. 
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With daylight failing, they decide to head back, walking along Tub’s side of the creek. Almost immediately, Kenny spots some deer tracks leading from the creek into the woods, which Tub’s footprints clearly crossed. Kenny rebukes Tub for missing them. Tub tries to defend himself by saying he was “lost,” but Kenny dismisses his excuse: “You were lost. Big deal.”
Kenny seems to be the most insensitive and mean spirited of the three. His comment, “You were lost. Big deal,” shows that he doesn’t care about Tub’s emotions. Clearly, Kenny cares more about hunting than being a good friend, which foreshadows his later outburst against nature.
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They follow the tracks into the woods but come to a no hunting sign. Kenny wants to ignore the sign, but Frank insists that they ask the farmer who owns the land for permission to hunt on his land. Kenny isn’t convinced and thinks they are going to run out of daylight, but Frank tells Kenny to be patient—“You can’t hurry nature,” he says. “If we’re meant to get that deer, we’ll get it.”
Frank highlights nature’s power when he affirms, “You can’t hurry nature.” Even though the men are attempting to assert their dominance over nature by hunting deer, nature has the final say in the matter. In addition, Frank’s focus on nature and what’s “meant to” happen further depicts him as a hippie.
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They head back to the truck and Tub lags behind Kenny and Frank again—so far behind that he can’t even their voices anymore. Tired and dispirited, Tub sits down and eats the sandwiches and cookies he hadn’t eaten at lunch with the others, “taking his own sweet time.”
Tub eats his sandwiches and cookies only when the other two men can’t see him, foreshadowing Tub’s later confession to Frank that he is addicted to food and he carefully conceals his eating habits from his friends and family. This also suggests that Tub eats out of a sense of despair.
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When Tub reaches the truck, Kenny has already started driving away, and Tub has to run to catch it. He jumps on just in time and lies in the back, “panting.” Kenny grins back at him, but Tub doesn’t find this prank funny, so he ignores Kenny and doesn’t turn around when one of his companions taps on the window to get his attention.
Once again, Kenny teases Tub in a way that is more malicious than lighthearted. It’s unclear who taps on the glass—Kenny or Frank—but what is clear is that Tub is yet again excluded from the other men, both emotionally and physically.
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At the farmhouse, which is old and in need of repainting, Kenny goes in alone to get the farmer’s permission. Meanwhile, Tub tells Frank that Frank has “a short memory,” because he has evidently forgotten that Tub “used to stick up for” him. Frank, unrepentant, asks Tub: “What’s eating you?” When Tub reproaches Frank for leaving him behind in the truck, Frank tells Tub that he is a “grown-up” and “can take care of [himself].” He then hints that he has bigger problems to worry about than Tub’s hard feelings. Tub asks Frank if something is “bothering” him and what Kenny meant about the “babysitter.” Frank dismisses Tub’s question, saying that Kenny “talks too much” and telling Tub to “mind your own business.”
Tub’s mention of the way that he “used to stick up for” Frank shows that the two men used to have a deeper, more meaningful friendship, and that Frank should be showing more empathy than he currently is. By reminding Frank of this—and asking if something is “bothering” him—Tub makes a genuine attempt to repair their friendship. However, Frank rejects Tub’s kindness and once again excludes him from the secret. In repeating that Kenny “talks too much,” Frank seems to be regretful about entrusting Kenny with his secret.
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Kenny re-emerges from the farmhouse with his thumbs up. As they are starting off towards the woods, the farmer’s dog comes out of the barn, barking at them. With each bark, the dog slides backwards. Kenny responds by pretending to be a dog and snarling back, until the dog retreats in fear, “peeing a little as he went.” Frank says that the dog is “Fifteen years if he’s a day.” Kenny says it is “Too old.”
The interaction between Kenny and the dog points to the theme of man versus nature. Kenny threatens the dog—seen by the way the dog submissively “pee[s] a little” as he runs away. However, Kenny has to pretend to be a dog in order to scare the dog, perhaps pointing to the way that nature is more powerful than humans.
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They pick up the deer tracks and follow them into the woods but in the falling darkness they eventually lose the tracks. Kenny swears in frustration and says that “This will be the first season since I was fifteen I haven’t got my deer.” Frank tells Kenny that he can’t blame the deer, but that “There are all these forces out here and you just have to go with them.” Exasperated by Frank’s go-with-the-flow fatalism, Kenny says he doesn’t want to listen to Frank’s “hippie bullshit.” Frank says, “That’s enough,” but Kenny, incensed, tells Frank that he’s too “busy thinking about that little jailbait of yours.” Frank tells him to “drop dead” and walks off.
Kenny and Frank’s squabble foreshadows an impending change in the men’s dynamic. In making fun of Frank’s “hippie bullshit,” Kenny shows that his ridicule is not limited just to Tub. In addition, this is the second time that Kenny has brought up Frank’s secret—presumably, Frank’s “little jailbait” is the babysitter that Kenny referred to earlier, suggesting that Frank is romantically involved with an underaged girl. Kenny uses the secret as leverage, trying to assert his power over Frank and get a rise out of him.
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Kenny and Tub follow. As they are approaching the farmhouse, Kenny starts saying he “hate[s]” things—a post, then a tree—and shooting them with his rifle. Frank tells him to “Knock it off,” but Kenny merely looks at Tub and smiles. Tub hurries to catch up with Frank who is still ahead. Suddenly, the farmer’s dog runs out again. Kenny says, “I hate that dog.” For the second time, Frank tells Kenny “That’s enough,” and he orders Kenny to put his gun down. Ignoring him, Kenny shoots the dog dead. Tub, in shock, asks Kenny what the dog ever did to deserve being shot. Kenny turns to Tub and says, “I hate you.” Thinking Kenny is about to shoot him too, Tub shoots Kenny in the stomach.
Overcome by aggression, perhaps in response to Frank telling him to “drop dead,” Kenny begins shooting things around him. By specifically targeting the tree and the dog, Kenny demonstrates how humans are a threat to nature. However, by harming nature, Kenny ultimately harms himself. His aggressive behavior toward the dog makes it unclear if Kenny actually intends to shoot Tub as well, which makes Tub shoot Kenny first out of self-defense.
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Kenny crumples onto the snow. Tub calls Frank’s name, but Frank doesn’t react. Kenny, rocking on the snow in pain, says it was only “a joke.” Finally, Frank comes to life and bends down to Kenny.
Kenny claims that pretending to shoot Tub was just “a joke,” showing how he masks his cruelty under the guise of teasing.
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Frank, as if in disbelief, says to Tub, “You shot him.” Tub, weeping, attempts to exculpate himself, telling Frank that Kenny “made me.” Frank tells Kenny that he’s going to be okay—that he is “lucky,” even—because the bullet “missed your appendix.”
Even though Kenny has just been shot, Frank and Tub are slow to take action to help him, which shows how neglect pervades their whole friendship. Tub seems childlike when he says that Kenny “made me.”
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Tub suggests they call an ambulance, but Frank isn’t sure, asking, “What are we going to say?” Tub replies that they will say “what happened”: that he shot Kenny in self-defense. Kenny objects, but Frank tells him to calm down.
The men are still slow to get Kenny the medical help he needs and instead worry about how they will phrase the situation to the dispatcher. Frank tells Kenny to calm down, which seems insensitive, if not absurd, considering that Kenny has just been shot.
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Leaving Kenny bleeding in the snow but taking his rifle in case Kenny “get[s] ideas,” Tub and Frank head towards the farmhouse. They have to knock twice before the farmer answers. He asks if they “g[o]t anything,” and Frank says “No.” The farmer says that’s what he predicted, and when Frank confesses that they’ve had “an accident,” the farmer predicts that Kenny has been shot, and, seeming unperturbed, predicts that they’ll want to “use the phone,” too.
Like Frank, the farmer seems unperturbed by the fact that Kenny has just been shot, even though it happened on the farmer’s own property. The entire conversation between Tub, Frank, and the farmer feels slow and drawn out, illustrating that no one feels a sense of urgency in helping Kenny.
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In the farmhouse, there is a woman with a sleeping child. While Frank goes away to phone the ambulance, Tub confesses to the farmer that Kenny shot his dog. Much to Tub’s surprise, the farmer replies that he had asked Kenny to shoot it and that he “should have done it myself.” The woman says that the farmer “loved that dog so much.” The farmer explains that the dog was “old and sick” and “couldn’t chew his food any more.” He adds that he “would have done it myself” if he had a gun, but the woman says that he “couldn’t” have done it “in a million years.” The farmer merely shrugs.
The woman, presumably the farmer’s wife, explains how the farmer’s love for his dog was more of a hurt than a help. Even though the dog was in great pain, the farmer couldn’t bring himself to put it down and instead chose to neglect it. This conversation also reveals that Kenny was justified in killing the dog—the farmer actually asked him to do it. However, Kenny concealed this fact for the sake of looking tough and being deceptive.
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Frank returns with the news that the nearest hospital is fifty miles away and there are no available ambulances. The woman gives them some directions for a shortcut, which Tub writes down. The farmer tells them where to find some boards to carry Kenny on and says he’ll turn on the porch light for them.
Even the hospital seems to neglect Kenny, as it’s far away and there are no ambulances. Likewise, the farmer and the woman exert very little effort in helping Kenny, showing their lack of urgency and compassion.
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It is entirely dark outside now and the wind is up. Frank retrieves the boards while Tub looks for Kenny. Kenny is not where they left him, but rather lying on his stomach up the drive. Tub asks Kenny if it is okay and assures him that “Frank says it missed your appendix,” but Kenny responds that he “already had my appendix out.”
Once again, Tub and Frank seem unhurried. Only Kenny seems to understand the gravity of the situation, considering he has dragged himself up the driveway. Tub’s comment that the bullet missed Kenny’s appendix seems like a flimsy attempt at optimism.
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Frank returns with the boards and Kenny makes a joke about hoping that he doesn’t have a “male nurse” at the hospital. “That’s the spirit,” Frank says, as he and Tub hoist Kenny onto the boards. Kenny screams and kicks in pain at the movement. Frank and Tub start carrying Kenny towards the truck, but it is slippery and dark because the farmer has forgotten to turn on the porch light. Tub falls, dropping Kenny, who rolls down the drive, yelling. Frank calls Tub a “fat moron.” This is the last straw for Tub: he snaps and grabs Frank by the collar, shaking him and telling him “What do you know about fat,” “What do you know about me.” “No more laughing,” Tub demands and Frank, trying to placate Tub, says “All right,” promising to stop and apologizing.
Kenny’s joke shows that he’s still in good spirits and also emphasizes his abrasive, judgmental nature. Meanwhile, Tub and Frank’s squabble indicates a turning point in the men’s relationship. Tub’s emotionally charged response to being called a “fat moron,” foreshadows his later conversation with Frank, in which Tub reveals that he has a serious addiction to food and overeating. It’s also somewhat clear that now that Tub has shot Kenny and lashed out at Frank, he has more power than he had before; both Kenny and Frank must, to some extent, defer to Tub now.
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Frank lifts Kenny back onto the boards and into the bed of the truck and covers him with blankets. Frank starts the truck and remarks that “you’ve got to hand it to the Japanese,” who, he says, “can make a hell of a truck.” Frank and Tub are alone up front together for the first time, and Frank apologizes to Tub again and says that Tub “should have said something” if he felt that way. Tub says that he did say something but that Frank doesn’t “pay attention very much.” Frank replies that he should have been more “sympathetic” and reassures Tub that he doesn’t blame him for shooting Kenny. Frank says that Kenny “was asking for it,” and Frank admits that he “would have done the same thing in your shoes.”
In repeating his statement that Kenny “was asking for it,” Frank implies that he is aware that Kenny’s jokes are thinly veiled cruelty. In asserting that he “would have done the same thing” were he in Tub’s position, Frank demonstrates genuine empathy. This moment is warm and affectionate—despite the fact that Kenny is bleeding in the back of the truck—signaling a positive shift in Tub and Frank’s friendship. However, this newfound friendship seems to happen at Kenny’s expense.
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Snow and wind get into the car through the broken windshield, and soon Frank’s fingers are too cold to drive. They stop at a tavern where they see dead deer strapped to the hoods of parked vehicles. Kenny, still lying in the back but with his blankets having blown off, says he is cold. Frank tells him he’s not the only one, that it’s “worse inside” the truck, and that he can’t complain about the cold if he’s not even going to keep his blankets on. Kenny asks why they are stopping and Frank, explaining that they need to warm up, tells Kenny to “hold your horses.”
The deer carcasses strapped to the cars parked at the tavern mean that everyone else had a better hunt than Kenny, Frank, and Tub. The deer strapped to cars also echo wounded Kenny, stranded in the back of the truck. His friends are essentially treating him like an animal now. Frank is flippant about Kenny’s pain, showing his failure to be a good friend and react appropriately to the circumstances.
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In the tavern, the waitress brings some coffee over, and Frank says, “Just what the doctor ordered.” Frank concedes to Tub that he doesn’t pay attention enough and explains that he’s been preoccupied. Then, Frank says he is thinking of leaving his wife, Nancy, and their children. Grabbing Tub’s arm, Frank asks him if he has even been in love with his “whole being,” and he declares that he has fallen in love with Roxanne Brewer—the babysitter.
Frank’s comment—that coffee is “just what the doctor ordered”—is ironic, considering the men should be rushing Kenny to the hospital so he can be seen by a doctor. Frank seems to prioritize his own comfort over Kenny’s, further revealing Frank’s failure as a friend. He also seems to prioritize his romantic problems over Kenny’s seriously jeopardized health.  
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Tub shakes his head and starts to guess how young the babysitter is, but Frank interrupts him, saying she’s “Fifteen.” Tub, shocked and disapproving, says that “she doesn’t have breasts.” Trying to defend himself, Frank tells Tub he is being close-minded and says that “this so-called babysitter, this so-called fifteen-year-old has more in her little finger than most of us have in our entire bodies.” Visibly upset at the thought of leaving his wife and kids, whom he hasn’t yet told of his plans, Frank fears that Tub will think him “a complete bastard.” Tub says that he doesn’t and offers his philosophy of friendship: “when you’ve got a friend it means you’ve always got someone on your side.” Frank is comforted: “You don’t know how good it feels to hear you say that.”
Frank finally explains his secret involving the babysitter, signaling that he has fully accepted Tub as a friend and will no longer exclude him. Although Tub is shocked by the secret, he responds with a declaration of his unwavering friendship and support. However, Tub is perhaps too supportive, as he barely objects to the absurdity and danger of Frank leaving his wife for a fifteen-year-old girl. Tub’s dramatic declaration of support may stem from the way that he was previously left out by Frank and Kenny. Perhaps now that Tub feels accepted, he is willing to say anything to stay in Frank’s good graces. On the other hand, maybe Tub promises his support and friendship because Tub knows what it feels like to be excluded and lonely.
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Upon returning to the car, they discover Kenny in a bad way. He is sweating, shivering and straddling the tailgate having tried to escape. They lift him back into the truck and he complains: “It hurts, Frank.” Frank says it wouldn’t hurt if he “stayed put,” and tells him to say the sentence “I’m going to the hospital,” which Kenny repeats obediently.
Frank treats Kenny dismissively, as if Kenny is a child who is annoying his parent in the driver’s seat. At the beginning of the story, Frank and Kenny seemed to share a close relationship, but now that Frank and Tub have grown closer, Frank neglects Kenny, pointing to the old saying, “two is company, three is a crowd.”
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Back on the road again, Tub realizes that he has left the directions to the hospital at the tavern. Frank reassures him that he can remember the way.
By carelessly leaving the directions back at the tavern, Tub reveals that Kenny is a low priority. Even though Tub clearly messed up, Frank doesn’t ridicule him this time, emphasizing their newfound friendship. 
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Soon, Frank and Tub are too cold to continue again. They pull over at a roadhouse. While they are warming up using the dryers in the bathroom, Tub tells Frank he is touched that Frank trusted him with his secret. “The way I look at it,” Frank says, “no man is an island. You’ve got to trust someone.” Tub then confesses to Frank that he doesn’t really have any problems with his glands, but that he is overweight because he overeats compulsively when he is alone. Frank asks if Alice—presumably Tub’s partner—knows, but Tub says that “nobody knows,” which is the “worst” part: he isn’t bothered by his appearance, but what he can’t stand is “the lying” about being on a diet in public while he “shovel[s] it in” in private.
In divulging his own secret, Tub seems to thank Frank for his earlier honesty about the babysitter. Tub confides in Frank in order to further solidify the two men’s new friendship. In addition, Tub admits that he’s been hiding his overeating habit, which explains why he ate a celery stick and a single hardboiled egg in front of Kenny and Frank at lunch but then ate two sandwiches and cookies once his companions were out of sight. His comment that the lying is worse than the problem itself suggests that Tub wants dearly to be understood by others.
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Tub asks Frank if he thinks he is “disgusting.” Frank responds by ordering Tub four plates of pancakes, slathering them with butter and syrup, commanding Tub to “[s]it down,” and watching Tub demolish them all—not even letting him stop to wipe his mouth. Frank eggs Tub on, telling him to “Weigh in” and to “Clean your plate.” Upon Tub finishing the pancakes, Frank says “Beautiful,” and asks if Tub is full. Tub responds that he has “never been so full.”
Now it is Tub’s turn to fear Frank’s rejection. Just as Tub responded to Frank’s big secret with a comforting declaration of his friendship and support, as does Frank respond to Tub’s secret with kindness. However, it’s possible that Frank isn’t actually being kind in this instance, as he supplies Tub with the very thing that makes him feel tempted and ashamed.
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Back at the truck, Kenny’s blankets have blown off again. Frank says that they should use the blankets themselves. Kenny is still repeating “I’m going to the hospital.”
Frank’s willingness to take blankets from Kenny shows the extent of his neglect and unconcern for Kenny, even though Kenny is in extreme pain and the two are supposedly friends.
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On the road again, Tub tells Frank what the farmer told him: that he had asked Kenny to shoot the dog. Rather than being horrified at the mistake, Frank is tickled by Kenny’s cheek: “That Kenny. What a card.” They both laugh together.
Once again, Tub and Frank react inappropriately. Instead of recognizing that Kenny was shooting the dog because he was asked to (and that he was actually joking when he pointed his gun toward Tub), Frank and Tub just laugh and call Kenny crazy. They don’t seem to realize that Kenny was wrongly shot—nor do they seem to remember (or care) that Kenny is still in the back of the truck, with his health dangerously declining.
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Meanwhile, Kenny is lying beneath the stars, saying to himself that he is going to the hospital. He isn’t, though; Frank accidentally took “a different turn a long way back.”
Since Tub accidentally left the directions to the hospital back at the tavern—and Frank has had to navigate by memory—Frank’s “different turn” was likely accidental and went unnoticed. However, considering Frank’s glaring indifference toward Kenny, it’s possible that Frank’s wrong turn was, in fact, intended. 
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