In “Hunters in the Snow,” Kenny, Frank, and Tub all keep and share shameful or sensitive secrets, such as the real reason for Tub’s weight problems, or Frank’s love for his kids’ fifteen-year-old babysitter. The characters form alliances with one another by sharing these secrets, punish others by withholding secrets, and leverage secrets to gain power over others. In this way, Wolff shows that establishing intimacy through sharing secrets is risky, as secrets can be betrayed or weaponized.
While Frank and Kenny’s alliance against Tub is clear from the beginning, their shared secrets simultaneously cement and undermine their relationship. Prior to the story’s start, Frank has told Kenny his secret—that he is in love with a fifteen year-old babysitter—which seems to demonstrate a closeness between the two men that Tub does not share. However, when Frank tells Kenny that he “talk[s] too much,” the secret becomes less a bond than a faultline. In order to reassert power over Frank, Kenny threatens to divulge Frank’s secret to Tub, thereby turning an emblem of their friendship into a weapon.
By contrast, when Frank and Tub share their shameful secrets with each other, they both seem to accept their friend’s secret. Tub thinks that Frank will conclude he is “[p]retty disguisting” for confessing that he is overweight due to overeating, but Frank doesn’t. Likewise, Frank fears that Tub will think he is “a complete bastard” for being in love with the babysitter, but instead Tub says that “when you’ve got a friend it means you’ve always got someone on your side, no matter what.” While this might seem positive and accepting, it’s also worth considering whether these reactions are appropriate. After all, being in love with an underage girl and compulsively overeating are not necessarily things that ought to be uncritically affirmed or endorsed. Besides, having a friend “on your side, no matter what” is ominous: after all, Tub and Frank are “on the same side” with regards to neglecting wounded Kenny, and Frank and Kenny were “on the same side” when mocking Tub. Perhaps these friendships would be stronger, actually, if the characters thought independently and acted according to what they thought was right.
Furthermore, even though Frank doesn’t try to leverage Tub’s secret by telling it to anyone, he does use it to manipulate Tub. When Tub reveals to Frank his deepest secret (that he is overweight because he compulsively overeats and not because of a problem with his “glands”), Frank baits Tub into overeating in order to control and humiliate Tub by exploiting his weaknesses. After watching Tub demolish four plates of pancakes, he says that it is “Beautiful.” This might look like being supportive but, by encouraging Tub to do something that makes him feel bad about himself, Frank does not seem to have Tub’s best interests at heart.
There is, however, an aspect of this sharing of secrets that is not uniformly negative, but is instead potentially redemptive. Frank’s response to Tub’s secret, for instance, is potentially helpful in that Tub says he is most tormented not by his weight, but by keeping his overeating a secret. It is possible, then, that Frank—by making Tub perform his secret in public—has released some of Tub’s shame (this may be why Tub says he has “never been so full”). Furthermore, there is an element of justice in Kenny’s fate. Kenny’s secret (that he killed the dog because the farmer asked him to) is different from the other secrets in that it does not point to Kenny’s personal weakness: it is the farmer who is presumably ashamed of not having the strength to shoot his suffering dog. Kenny therefore keeps this secret not out of shame, but rather because he wants to scare Tub into thinking he is going to shoot him, too. Kenny’s purely malicious deception quite literally backfires, and so Kenny is, in this sense, punished for his secrecy by his injury.
Secrets and Deception ThemeTracker
Secrets and Deception 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.
“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.”
“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.”
“Tub, don’t you see how you’re dividing people up into categories? He’s an executive, she’s a secretary, he’s a truck driver, she’s fifteen years old. Tub, 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. I can tell you this little lady is something special.”
“Nobody knows. That’s the worst of it, Frank. Not the being fat […] but the lying. Having to lead a double life like a spy or a hit man. This sounds strange but I feel sorry for those guys, I really do. I know what they go through. Always having to think about what you say and do. Always feeling like people are watching you, trying to catch you at something. Never able to just be yourself.”
“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.”