“Hunters in the Snow” is the story of a three-way friendship that is based on exclusion and harm. Tub, Frank, and Kenny are three friends who go on a hunting trip together, but from the very beginning their friendship is characterized by cruelty: at first, Frank and Kenny gang up on Tub, and then Tub and Frank align against Kenny. The story thus raises the question of whether the three men really are friends, or whether they are, as Wolff’s title suggests, merely three “Hunters in the Snow,” loosely bound by their annual tradition of hunting in the woods outside of Spokane, Washington. As the hunting trip unfolds, Wolff suggests that friendships or alliances that are based on shared aggression rather than affection are unfulfilling and harmful and are not genuine friendships at all.
While Kenny, Frank, and Tub are supposedly friends, all of them mistreat each other. From the beginning of the story, Kenny and Frank are late in picking Tub up (leaving him waiting in the snow for an hour), and when they do eventually arrive, Kenny tries to scare Tub by nearly running him over with the truck. Though Tub bears the brunt of Kenny’s abuse, Kenny is also nasty to Frank: he makes fun of Frank for his “hippie bullshit” and threatens to betray Frank’s secret about “a certain babysitter” (fifteen-year-old Roxanne Brewer, whom Frank has fallen in love with).
The men’s friendship is held together by exclusion and betrayal rather than kindness and goodwill. The story’s scenario itself—a hunting trip—emphasizes that the men’s friendship is based on harm rather than affection: they are bonding over an activity that includes trying to kill something else for fun, and in the absence of deer, they turn on one another. In addition, Kenny and Frank’s alliance against Tub illustrates how the men’s friendship rests on ridicule and disloyalty. The two men bond by calling Tub rude names, laughing at him for being overweight, and intentionally walking ahead of him, leaving him to struggle on his own through the fences and deep snow in the woods. Furthermore, although Kenny is the ringleader of this behavior, he is not its source. This becomes clear when the men’s alliances shift and Tub and Frank gang up on Kenny. Rather than becoming kinder, their dynamic becomes even crueler, with Tub and Frank abandoning a freezing and severely wounded Kenny in the back of the pickup truck in order to eat pancakes together and chat.
Perhaps the most insidious aspect of Kenny, Frank, and Tub’s friendship is that the rare moments in which the characters seem to make genuine overtures to intimacy are when they are most vulnerable to abuse. Frank, for example, confides in Kenny prior to the story’s start about the underage babysitter he’s in love with, but Kenny leverages the secret by threatening to tell Tub, thereby gaining power over Frank. Similarly, Tub confides in Frank that the source of his weight problem is not a complicated medical issue involving his glands, but rather his compulsion to overeat. Frank then uses this knowledge to harm Tub, ordering four plates of pancakes, slathering them with butter and syrup, and then watching Tub eat them all. While Frank seems at first to be signaling to Tub that he doesn’t need to hide his addiction, it becomes clear that the pancakes are Frank’s way of proving his superiority and power over Tub by feeding Tub’s addiction and tempting him into behavior that makes him feel bad about himself. Even the moments that appear to be reflective of a healthy, compassionate friendship, then, are still rooted in maliciousness. This demonstrates that toxicity in relationships is not always blatant—it often is disguised, which can make it even more pernicious.
Friendship and Cruelty ThemeTracker
Friendship and Cruelty Quotes in Hunters in the Snow
He looked like a cartoon of a person laughing, except that his eyes watched the man on the seat beside him. “You ought to see yourself,” the driver said. “He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he, Frank?” The man beside him smiled and looked off.
They started off across the field. Tub had trouble getting through the fences. Frank and Kenny could have helped him; they could have lifted up on the top wire and stepped on the bottom wire, but they didn’t. They stood and watched him. There were a lot of fences and Tub was puffing when they reached the woods.
The snow was light but the drifts were deep and hard to move through. Wherever Tub looked the surface was smooth, undisturbed, and after a time he lost interest. He stopped looking for tracks and just tried to keep up with Frank and Kenny on the other side.
“I came out here to get me a deer, not listen to a bunch of hippie bullshit. And if it hadn’t been for dimples here I would have, too. […] And you—you’re so busy thinking about that little jailbait of yours you wouldn’t know a deer if you saw one.”
“You get anything?” he asked.
“No,” Frank said.
“I knew you wouldn’t. That’s what I told the other fellow.”
“We’ve had an accident.”
[…] “Shot your friend, did you?”
“I did,” Tub said.
“I suppose you want to use the phone.”
“If it’s okay.”
“You fat moron,” Frank said. “You aren’t good for diddly.”
Tub grabbed Frank by the collar and backed him hard up against the fence. […] “What do you know about fat,” Tub said. “What do you know about glands.” As he spoke he kept shaking Frank. “What do you know about me.”
“No wiping,” he said. Tub kept at it. The syrup covered his chin; it dripped to a point like a goatee. […] Tub took the fork in his left hand and lowered his head and started really chowing down. “Clean your plate,” Frank said when the pancakes were gone, and Tub lifted each of the four plates and licked it clean. He sat back, trying to catch his breath.
“Beautiful,” Frank said. “Are you full?”
“I’m full,” Tub said. “I’ve never been so full.”
Right overhead was the Big Dipper, and behind, hanging between Kenny’s toes in the direction of the hospital, was the North Star, Pole Star, Help to Sailors. As the truck twisted through the gentle hills the star went back and forth between Kenny’s boots, staying always in his sight. “I’m going to the hospital,” Kenny said. But he was wrong. They had taken a different turn a long way back.