Irony in Tobias Wolff’s “Hunters in the Snow” and Alice Munro’s “How I Met My Husband” Irony expresses and often underlines the contrast between two opposite concepts creating an indirect, more sophisticated method of communication. Irony is as efficient in a literary work, as the reader can perceive it. Therefore, often times the reader must carefully analyze the material, reading it repeatedly if necessary, in order to fully understand the author’s message and intent. Tobias Wolff and Alice Munro employ irony in their short stories in attempt to surprise the readers, giving them an opportunity for discovery.
In Wolff’s “Hunters in the Snow”, irony acts as a tragicomedy agent, but its role is mainly to reveal the true nature of the protagonists’ characters. On the other hand Munro’s use of irony gives her story, “How I Met My Husband”, a nice and funny finale, suggesting coming of age through epiphany and also the transition from phantasy to reality. Hence, irony is used differently in the two stories, such that in Wolff’s story it is a repetitive theme that keeps the reader engaged, while in Munro’s story irony provides the punch-line ending.
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
In the short story, “Hunters in The Snow”, written by Tobias Wolff, the reader is presented with many elements of irony. The main characters of the story are three friends with personal issues that have a life-changing day in their lives. The three friends meet on a weekend to go deer hunting. It is the middle of the winter and the weather and environment they are in, which is upstate Washington state, is described as quite cold and inhospitable, which creates a slight discomfort in the reader. The author mentions that “two years in a row they’d been up and down this land” (87) in the same area they were heading.
So one would think the three must know this area inside and out. At the end of the story though, they prove us otherwise: “They had taken a different turn a long way back” (99). They get lost and do not even notice it, probably causing Kenny’s death. The connection between the fact that they know the area and that they lose their way anyway is not very apparent, yet I consider it one of the biggest situational ironies of the story, partly because it is the most tragic one. The main character seems to be Tub, an overweight man with an eating disorder, since he was presented first and also in most detail.
Even though Tub is being overly cautious with his rifle by taking the bolt out before he enters the truck, which is not a common practice among hunters, he later shoots Kenny in a blink of an eye. The author mentions that Tub “shot from the waist” (91), which means that this was an instinctive reflex in self-defense. The other two characters are Kenny, the prankster of the group and Frank, the “intellectual” of the group, who seems like the leader of the group in the beginning of the story. Both Kenny and Tub look up to Frank and show him what seems to be undeserved respect.
As we find out later on he is clearly unworthy of the respect initially given to him. The irony of the situation is that Frank becomes quickly a subordinate of Tub’s will. After Tub stands up to Frank and confronts him physically about the constant bullying, Frank instantly “loses face” and starts trying to please Tub in any way possible, completely ignoring the wounded Kenny. From being the leader of the group he becomes this puppy, doing everything he can to gain Tub’s approval, as his initial friendship to Kenny seems to have evaporated or never have truly existed.
This situation is similar to an everyday occurrence in society of a person cheating on their spouse then eventually marrying the person they cheat with, yet it does not occur to that person they cheated with, that history might repeat itself. Tub accepts Frank’s apparent sensibility towards him instantly, without questioning his integrity and without realizing that he is most likely to become the next Kenny. In the beginning of the story Kenny puts Tub’s life in danger by driving fast, halfway on the curb towards Tub.
So one could say Kenny was playing with Tub’s life. He then laughs uncontrollably at Tub “slapping his knees and drumming his feet on the floorboards” (86). And somehow this turns back against him, when he is the one shot by Tub later on in the story. When they stop to rest by the creek Kenny actually talks about choosing to be burned on the stake if “you ask me how I want to die today” (88), referring to the unpleasant cold weather they were having. This is yet another proof of Kenny’s ignorance towards the importance of life, and death for that matter.
He is also presented as the best hunter in the group: “this will be the first season since I was fifteen I haven’t got my deer” (90), so it is ironic that Kenny is the one that probably dies at the end, but somehow it is expected. He seems like a strong character in the beginning, by driving the truck, getting permission to hunt from the owner of the land and he is assigned to kill the dog. Yet, ironically, he becomes the weakest character in the story at the end.
Alice Munro’s “How I Met My Husband” is an autobiographical short story that presents a decisive moment in the author’s life. The main character is Edie, a “hired girl” that works in the house of the wealthy Peebles family. Even though the author is omniscient she still attempts to hide some elements of the truth “I wouldn’t have looked in her drawers … That’s a lie. I would have looked … but I would have felt worse … “(128). The story is told in the first person, yet from the fifteen-year-old Edie’s point of view.
In spite of the fact that she does not have to reveal anything that she does not want the reader to know, ironically, her guilt determines her to admit to it in a humorous way. This is an example of situational irony, where we do not expect to see a corrective remark addressing the author’s true feelings and yet it happens. The irony occurs outside of the story though, making the presence of the author noticeable. The character of Alice Kelling seems to be the antagonist of the story, as we read the scene where the ladies find out that Edie knows about Chris Watters leaving.
However, this is a quite common way for an author to shift the sympathy of the reader, by building a main character, making him or her familiar and then creating a highly controversial scene or situation, where no matter what the reader roots for the main character. Alice Kelling is actually a victim just like Edie, even though most readers will consider Alice Kelling the antagonist. After reflection it becomes clear to the reader that despite his friendly behavior the antagonist is actually Chris Watters. The clearest sign that he was doing something wrong would be his own epiphany: “Oh, no” (136).
In this case the irony occurs within the reader, a very interesting effect achieved by the author. Another ironic twist of the story occurs, as the reader realizes, that Edie married the mailman. She had waited by the mailbox for Chris Watters’ letter for months, and every time she saw the mailman she would smile. This of course confused the mailman, making him believe that he is the reason she was waiting at the mailbox every time. It is ironic and almost sad how the author lets the husband continue to believe that she “went after him by sitting by the mailbox every day” (140).
Ironically, she does not even say the mailman’s first name, as opposed to Chris Watters who is the only adult character addressed by the first name throughout the story, a clear sign of affection. And mostly ironic would be how the author describes the beginning of her relationship with her husband in no less than one paragraph. It almost suggests that the story could have been titled “How I Fell in Love, But Then Married My Husband”, which would take a whole lot of fun out of the ending.
A sign of her admitting to giving up on love is the passage where she talks about the two kinds of women: the ones that wait and the “busy” ones, that do not wait, referring to women who are looking for love and women that decide to just settle down. She then states that “even though there might be things the second kind of women have to pass up and never know about, it still is better” (140) , which shows she has no regrets about her decision. These two stories display irony in various ways.
Tobias Wolff uses more graspable irony in “Hunters in The Snow”, which is very evident to the reader, while Alice Munro choses a more subtle way of being ironic in “How I Met My Husband”, but apparently both techniques are very effective in their own way. Also, another difference would be the amount of irony present in the two stories. Although not as effective as Munro’s usage of it Wolff’s story is abundant in irony which creates a constant entertainment for the reader. Munro chooses to make much less use of it, yet she still manages to create the surprise ending.
When comparing the two stories one might consider Wolff’s story more interesting and maybe even more engaging, which could be considered slightly commercial. Munro’s story on the other hand requires more patience to read through, however, it might also offer more reason for contemplation. References: Wolff, Tobias. “Hunters in the Snow. ” Perrine’s Literature Structure, Sound & Sense. Eds. Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. 86-99. Munro, Alice. “How I Met My Husband. ” Perrine’s Literature Structure, Sound & Sense. Eds. Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. 125-140.