“Hunters in the Snow,” a story of three men taking to the woods for a deer hunt, highlights how mankind is a threat to nature. Although the hunt itself is inherently violent, it is Kenny’s aggressive behavior at the end of the fruitless hunt that specifically showcases the way that humans treat nature with violence and aggression. However, since the hunters are constantly thwarted by and forced to submit to nature—such as when the freezing cold winds make the men prioritize stopping for hot coffee over rushing Kenny to the hospital after he has been shot—the story ultimately asserts that nature is more powerful than humans.
During the hunt, Kenny is violent towards nature. He aggressively states, “I hate that tree,” and shoots a nearby tree. When the farmer’s dog runs out into the woods, Kenny claims, “I hate that dog,” and shoots the dog, who is instantly killed. Kenny’s assertion of dominance over the tree and the dog represents his general attempt to assert human primacy over the natural landscape and animals through violence. The hunt itself also demonstrates mankind’s violence toward nature, as the men kill deer for sport and entertainment. Although this particular hunt proves fruitless for the three men, other people have better luck—seen by the cars topped with deer carcasses outside of the tavern—suggesting that mankind’s aggressive treatment of the natural world is widespread.
Despite mankind’s violence, nature is still the more powerful force, since the men must constantly submit to the demands of nature. As Tub, Kenny, and Frank struggle to tromp through the heavy snow (earning Tub several bruises on his shins from the icy snow crust), it is clear that nature has the upper hand. Although the men discover deer tracks, they are unable to find the deer, demonstrating nature’s ability to outwit the incompetent hunters. Nature even has the power to end the men’s hunt entirely—as darkness falls, the men know they have no choice but return to the truck. Later, on the way to the hospital, the icy wind dictates when the men stop for food and warmth. Even though Kenny has just been shot and needs medical treatment immediately, it is the weather, not the men themselves, that decides if and when that will happen. By detailing the three men’s ill-fated hunt, Wolff encourages his readership to recognize and respect nature’s power and be cognizant of humankind’s impact on the natural world.
Man vs. Nature ThemeTracker
Man vs. Nature Quotes in Hunters in the Snow
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.
The snow was shaded and had a glaze on it. It held up Kenny and Frank but Tub kept falling through. As he kicked forward, the edge of the crust bruised his shins.
“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.”
“I hate that post,” he said. He raised his rifle and fired. It sounded like a dry branch cracking. […] “I hate that tree,” he said, and fired again. […] “I hate that dog.” […] Kenny fired. The bullet went in between the dog’s eyes. […] Kenny turned to Tub. “I hate you.”
“You asked him to?” Tub said. “You asked him to shoot your dog?”
“He was old and sick. Couldn’t chew his food anymore. I would have done it myself but I don’t have a gun.”
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.