The Ultimate Power Struggle: One’s Descent into Immorality

If we must fight, we should put up a damn good one. In my power struggles in the past, either within myself or with others, I realized that when I am in the right I don’t back down. I assert my standpoint well and stand firm in what I believe in. All through my childhood, adolescent and adult years, I knew that if I own it, I win it.  The short story, “Hunters in the Snow” illustrates a complicated power struggle between three friends, who each sink into a sense of immoral conviction as they own up and affirm their weaknesses.

The power struggle among the three characters, Tub, Frank and Kenny, is evident all throughout the story. At the beginning of the story we see Kenny, an insensitive man, play a scary joke on Tub by almost running down his friend with the truck. Right away, he shows the reader his dominance over Tub. Frank, on the other hand, treats Tub like a joke, ignoring Tub’s concerns and emphasizing Tub’s obesity as an impediment. With Kenny delightfully participating, he leaves Tub behind in the hike through the snow (Please cite the page number here).

Tub meanwhile tries to forgive his friends, and struggles to keep up with their pace. As the story progresses, however, his submissive behavior changes and his struggle for power becomes pronounced when he shoots Kenny and confronts Frank (Please cite the page number here). Wolff’s rich characterization is achieved through skillful narration, in revealing the characters’ personality; and through skillful use of suspense and surprise, in revealing the characters’ actions.

Wolff’s characters are so ingeniously shaped and presented that the reader instantly connects with them.  The power struggle in my friendships with men and with women is in parallel with the story. It is inevitable, in a set of friends, to not acquire a certain reputation; be it a bully, a meddler, a cohort, a confidante. Establishing such an image or a reputation is a dilemma, and a power struggle within the self and with others.

The power struggle within oneself is illustrated in the internal conflicts Tub and Frank are experiencing. Tub is lying to himself and to people around him about his weight problem. He appears to be on a strict diet, eating only hard-boiled eggs and celery sticks (Please cite the page number here).  He tells friends that his obesity is a glandular problem, and therefore not within his will to control. Towards the end of the story, however, he admits to Frank that he is lying about this aspect of his health (Please cite the page number here). Frank, on the other hand, is lying to himself and to his family about his pursuit of lust.

He twists facts about Roxanne Brewer, the fifteen-year-old babysitter with whom he has an illicit affair. He rationalizes that her age is not an issue, and that there is something special about her that goes beyond the sexual aspect (Please cite the page number here). He cannot readily admit to himself and to Tub that the ultimate reason for the affair is his sexual gratification. Wolff’s use of the narrative voice and of character dialogue is powerful because it accurately illustrates the convictions of each character with merely a line or two. Wolff crafts character dialogue in its best form.

While reading the story, I sympathized with the character named Tub a great deal. He reminds me of an old saying that goes “A lie, when oft repeated, is eventually considered a truth.”   Like Tub, I sometimes tell lies to mask embarrassing inadequacies. However, unlike Tub, my strength lies in recognizing early on, when to stop seeing the lie as a truth.

The power struggle between the characters and their circumstance is illustrated in the plot of the story. The three friends find themselves in a dilemma when, after Tub shot Kenny, the long drive to the hospital is difficult to make because of the unfamiliar area. (Please cite the page number here).  Dealing with their own personal circumstance did not help either, with Frank and Tub taking their sweet time to stop by a tavern, and confessing each other’s weaknesses (Please cite the page number here), clearly an action out of place especially when a wounded and bleeding Kenny is waiting in a truck, out in the cold. When Frank and Tub finally proceed with the drive to the hospital, they take a wrong turn (Please cite the page number here), implying that Kenny might not even make it alive to the hospital.

Wolff’s narrative voice is powerful in the revelation of the character’s actions and in the unfolding of the story. The last two lines of the  story have a strong impact on the reader: “…He was wrong. They had taken a different turn a long way back” (Please cite the page number here). Figuratively, it depicts the characters’ descent into immoral convictions, with Frank indulging Tub’s gluttony and Tub condoning Frank’s illicit relationship (Please cite the page number here). I sometimes find myself in a power struggle with my personal circumstance. It is during such times that the feeling of helplessness is so oppressive.

Tobias Wolff is clearly a skillful storyteller. With his ingenious use of fiction elements and his masterful ease with manipulating the narrative voice, he creates a powerful story that readers such as myself can relate with.  At the same time, Wolff shocks and enlightens his readers by revealing the foibles of human character. He achieves one purpose of great literature: to deliver insight so that the reader will realize the value of his strengths and experiences, and the dangers of his weaknesses.

Part B. Writing about Poetry

On the poem, “Birches” by Robert Frost (Please cite the page number here).

The image of bent birches suggests the idea of an entity being ravaged by external forces, such as a human being weighed down by age and its burdens. This image evokes a sad, poignant fact about life: when we age and are constantly weighed down by problems we may end up “bent”, radically changed. Using birches as a symbol is an effective technique used by the poet, Robert Frost. During its reading, the verses depict two different images: the literal and the figurative; and so the reader is given two separate but related ideas to grasp, and the experience is enlightening.

The image of a boy swinging on birch trees suggests the idea of childhood innocence. Lines 26–28 clearly depict so: “Some boy too far from town to learn baseball / Whose only play was what he found himself / Summer or winter, and could play alone” (Please cite the page number here). The poet is right on target in conveying the message that childhood, unlike adulthood, is innocent and simple. It does not include complex problems that adults are faced with. The reading of the verses is a delight, since it brings back memories of the reader’s own childhood.

On the poem, “On Reading Poems to a Senior Class at South High” by D.C. Berry (Please cite the page number here).

The image of water filling the room as is a fresh, new way of depicting the gradual invasion of intellectual discourse in a learning environment. As the persona is discussing a poem to his class, he likens the situation to an aquarium, where the students open up like gills and let him in (lines 13-14, page no.__ ). The use of water as a metaphor for verbal discussion is appropriate and masterful.

The image of the persona and his students swimming around the room, “like thirty tails whacking words” (lines 16-17, page no.__ ) conveys the idea of a loud, intense activity such as a lively discussion of poems.  The poet, D.C. Berry, successfully concretizes an abstract idea by his use of this imagery. He succeeds in making the poem a delightful read, and introducing a fresh concept to his readers. This poem is a fresh new way of looking at class discussions or poetry readings. It is remarkable how one poem can introduce a reader into seeing an idea in another point of view.

On the poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen (Please cite the page number here).

The most memorable and haunting images in this poem can be found in lines 17-24 (Please cite the page number here). The images convey the idea of death in its violent form. White eyes writhing, blood gargling, sores on tongues (lines 19-24, page no.__ ) are perfect images for this poem that depicts the real, raw situation of soldiers at war. The reader gets a sense of distaste for the concept that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. The images portray a death so violent it is far from being sweet. The author uses imagery and tone to convey his message to his readers. As a result, it is as if the persona himself takes the readers by the hand and shows them the ghastly conditions of war. This poem offers a vivid vicarious experience and the realization that the effect of war is rarely glorious, especially to those who experience it first hand.

Part C. Writing about Poetry

On the poem, “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden (Please cite the page number here).

This satire ridicules the life of the unknown citizen, a life so average that it is perfectly in conformation to the expectations of society. Auden’s use of satirical humor is exemplified by his persona supposedly praising the average conformist, but really putting this conformist in ridule. The title alone is satirical; the conformist, ideal citizen is nameless, he is unknown despite the fact that he did everything right in his life. Instead, he is reduced into a code, JS/07 M 378, conveying the message that this person is treated as a statistical datum, and nothing more. Further, the use of certain departments, like the

Bureau of Statistics (line 1) or Producers Research (line 18) that affirms the good qualities of the citizen is also satirical. If the unknown citizen led an insignificant life, why does he need to be investigated? This satire is an important, effective comment on the treatment of individuals in modern society. It is very effective in conveying the idea of man’s loss of his personal identity.

The examples of irony in this poem include the title itself, “the unknown citizen.” He is insignificant and yet the state praises his insignificant existence. In addition, although he led a boring, conformed life, the state chose to investigate and examine his affairs. W.H. Auden cleverly used these ironic elements to reveal the absurdity of conformity He reveals this idea to the readers in a humorous satire using irony, so that readers relate to the poem well. This poem effectively communicates the ridiculous concept of uniformity in society. The feeling of outrage, however, is tempered by satirical humor, an interesting delightful mix. For this literary achievement, Auden deserves to be sincerely lauded.

The reduction of human beings into mere numbers or statistics shows an insensitive, inhuman society. Uniformity is good for inanimate objects, but not for living, breathing, feeling individuals who are each so unique. I have always viewed conformity as a negative factor in living a healthy life. This poem re-affirmed my strong belief that there is strength in being different.

To have people of varied backgrounds, intellect, convictions, and lifestyle in a society is to allow people to be free; free to be themselves, free from the shackles of conformity. However, I have to admit that I have a quality in common with the unknown citizen. I am a conformist up to the point of abiding the law. Our similarity, however, stops there. I rage against absurd uniformity, and for this, unlike the unknown citizen, I know that I am perfectly happy and free.