Tobias Wolff Essay, Research Paper
Tobias Wolff, a boy of a troubled childhood, and a very tough father. Tobias Wolff had no intentions of being a writer from the start; it just seemed to of popped into his life. The Amazing part about this writer is that he was not supported by anyone but himself. His father was against everything that he did, and his brother, Geoffrey, also a writer would always take his fathers side, leaving Tobias on a side of his own. “I wasn’t fair, I always took my father’s side.” Said Geoffrey (Wolff, G; Duke of 144) Geoffrey was known as the ‘Good Brother’ as his father would say. This was wrong for a father to do, parents can’t play favorites, because it leads to one child feeling left out, or rebelling against it like Tobias Wolff did. I feel that the reason for the father favoritism towards Geoffrey Wolff was because Tobias was the younger brother, and younger brothers may be known to be more rebellious. Although, there was nothing said about how Tobias acted in his childhood, he might have been a rebellious child, which may of turned his father towards Geoffrey.
Tobias decided to enlist himself into the army once he couldn’t deal with his father anymore. No, he was not drafted into the army; he chose to enlist himself into the army acting on his own free will. Many say that Tobias did this to escape his troubled childhood and mainly his father. Shortly after Tobias enlisted himself into the army, he was called to battle in the Vietnam War where he experienced many different styles of life. Shortly after the war ended Tobias wrote a novel, most people say it was his best work, titled In Pharoh’s Army: memories of the lost war. The reason this came to be such an amazing work was it contained his wartime experiences from the Vietnam War. Once Tobias completed In Pharoh’s Army, he said, “This is … my last memoir.” It is not understood why Wolff said this it seems as if he were to disappear from the world of writing. Although I could not get a hold of this book, from what I read about it, it was a very vivid memoir which unlike other wartime stories, contained information and experiences from a writer who actually was there, in Vietnam, who experienced the hard times of war.
In the short story Powder by Tobias Wolff, there is a boy and his father, and they are sort of stranded out in the wilderness due to a snow storm, and the father keeps asking his kid questions like we’re gonna make it home, right? And other questions to give the kid confidence in his father. The kid kept responding with ‘umm yeah,’ and saying yes in an unsure way, like he didn’t have confidence in his father bringing him home safely. This ties in with the autobiography This Boys Life in which Tobias Wolff talks about his life, his father and how he began to lose faith in his father during his childhood years. I think that the short story Powder was actually about him and his father’s relationship, and how Tobias lost faith in his father like it said in This Boys Life.
Tobias Wolff’s father was also very forceful, in having things done his way, and him trying to manipulate Tobias into doing things that he wanted. His father said to him: “Your brother tells me you’re thinking of Choate, Personally, I think you’d be happier at Deerfield.” Tobias replied: “Well I just applied, Maybe I won’t get in.” (Wolff, T; Boys life 210) This shows how the father, not only was he forceful, but he made his son Tobias scared of him, in wanting to go to a different school that his father wants him to go to. The way that Tobias responded “Maybe I wont get in” gives me this impression, and also gives his father the impression that he really doesn’t want to go to Choate. Another thing I found interesting was the way that Tobias and his brother would respond to the father with “yes, sir,” and “no, sir.” (Wolff, T; Boys life 21) This make the father seem like he is more than a father, more like a general of the army, or captain of the ship. This brings me to think that the father would yell at Tobias a lot, and beat him too.
“My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California,” this showed how his father wasn’t caring for his son. He left for Vegas with his girlfriend after only seeing his son for a day. The father was or seemed to be insecure when a sheriff gave the school Yale his opinion of Wolff’s father: “Wolff is a boy with considerable ability and very little backbone. He is amiable and good natured, but lacks determination and steadfast.” (Wolff, G; duke of 41) This shows how the father was very insecure of him, and didn’t have a strong head on his shoulders.
Wolff had a fascination with liars, so much that he wrote a story about it: The Barrack’s Thief. Tobias Wolff wrote this award-winning novel in 1984. It is about a bond uniting three soldiers. One of the soldiers turns out to be a liar and a thief who stole the narrator’s wallet, who was a part of the trio. “Wolff is fascinated with liars, and many of his stories pivot on their strange manipulations of reality. Through lying, his characters discover what they are, what they want to be, what they could have been but missed, or what they once were an have now lost.” (Desmond) Also in Powder Wolff uses the father as a liar towards his son. The father said: “Look we’re talking about four, five inches. I’ve taken this car through worse than that.” But, in actuality he really hasn’t done this and his son knows it too.
In an interview with Tobias Wolff, Joan Smith asked him various questions about his feelings and opinions towards the art of writing. One question she asked was: “Do you think that the art of writing can be taught?”(Smith 1) Wolff replied with a simple but firm “No.” I guess he feels that people are either born with the art of writing or they aren’t, there is no one in between who can be taught to become a writer. You are given the gift of writing, not taught. Tobias also said that everyone has their own type of writing in which they are born with, which cannot be taught, but may be worked on or improved, but not changed. The following question by Smith in response to Wolff’s “no” was: “So what do you teach in your writing seminar at Syracuse?” Wolff replied: I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work, to help them become conscious of things they do well, of things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into. You want them to ask more of every sentence. These are really values; I suppose frames of thinking rather than discrete bits of information. You don’t teach information in a writing workshop.” This explains his point of there being no way to teach someone to become a writer; all you can do is improve their own technique or style. Wolff teaches a semester a year, usually people in their 20’s or 30’s who want to become better writers, and need someone to push them along the path.
Tobias Wolff had much success in his writing due to his lifelong experiences, especially his childhood. These experiences helped him to give the reader a more vivid, and real description. His two best works: In Pharoh’s Army, and This Boy’s Life both were about experiences in his life such as his childhood, and his experiences in the Vietnam War. The reason for these works becoming so successful is the way it is actually about real persons actual experiences, and readers love to read about other people’s experiences.
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Wolff, Tobias. In the Garden of North American Martyrs. 1945, The Ecco Press, New York. 175pgs.
Smith, Joan. “The Salon Interview – Speaking into the Unknown,” http://www.salon.com/dec96/interview961216.html , 3pgs.
Wolff, Tobias. Hunters in the snow, http://www.bnl.com/shorts/stories/huntsnow.html , 1997 B&L Associates, Renton, Washington, 12 pgs. (Gary Lindquist—Comments).
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Wolff, Geoffrey. The Duke of Deception – memories of my father, Random House inc. 1979, 275 pgs.