The Characters of Father and Son in "Powder" by Tobias Wolff

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About this sample


Words: 1120 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Apr 15, 2020

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Words: 1120|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Apr 15, 2020

“Powder” by Tobias Wolff: Analysis of The Characters Development
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In Tobias Wolff's "Powder," the intricate father-son relationship unfolds during a transformative skiing trip, revealing themes of responsibility, love, and personal growth.

The father initially appears impulsive and unreliable, as he prioritizes extra skiing runs over time constraints. However, beneath his carefree exterior lies a deep love for his son, demonstrated by his immediate recognition of the son's strengths and his determination to get him home for Christmas dinner. His actions, such as making a risky phone call to remove a roadblock, highlight his unwavering commitment to keeping the family together.

The son, on the other hand, starts as meticulous and rule-bound, but he undergoes a transformation during the journey. He learns to let go of control and embrace the unexpected, finding joy in the experience.

Wolff's character development showcases the nuanced father-son relationship, with its flaws and strengths, ultimately revealing the enduring bond of love that connects them. "Powder" offers a poignant exploration of family dynamics and personal growth, providing insights into the complexities of human relationships.

Table of contents

  1. Powder by Tobias Wolff: summary
  2. Father and son in “Powder”
  3. Conclusion
  4. Works Cited

Powder by Tobias Wolff: summary

Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff is best known because of his short stories and memoirs based on his own life. The famous author was born on June 14, 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama from Rosemary Loftus and Arthur Samuel Wolff, when Wolff’s parents divorced, he and his brother, Geoffrey Wolff, were separated.

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Tobias Wolff’s life experiences influenced his literary works. One of the examples is his short story “Powder”, where he depicts a complicated relationship between father and son.

Father and son in “Powder”

Tobias Wolff, the author of the short story “Powder”, developed his main characters exceptionally for such a short piece. In the story, a father and son go on a skiing trip and end up breaking some rules to get the son home in time for Christmas dinner.

First, Wolff demonstrates his writing prowess within the character of the father. In the text, the father is shown as an unreliable, carefree, impulsive, and irresponsible parent. After careful reading however, it becomes unequivocally clear that the father truly cares for his son and his family overall. One example in the text that proves the father’s hasty, carefree personality is when he and his son are leaving the hotel, but the father decides to postpone their departure to get in a few more runs. The father’s impetuous decision is shown when it started snowing and “ in this snow he observed some rare quality that made it necessary for us to get in one last run. We got in several last runs”. It is clear for the reader to see that the father is impulsive and reckless with his son because of the carefree way he decides to ignore their shortage of time and ski some more. They were already packed and ready to leave, when the father simply has to get in a few more runs. This explicitly shows that the father is irresponsible and unreliable around his son.

However, the text also implies the father’s love for his son. One example can be found where the father and his son are discussing the son’s strong points. The son starts the conversation,“‘Okay then. What are my strong points. ’ ‘Don’t get me started,’ he said. ‘It’d take all day. ’ ‘Oh right. Name one. ’ ‘Easy. You always think ahead’”. In this piece, the father is convincing his son of his many strengths. His love for his son is evident in his fast reply to his son’s question. He already has the answer on the tip of his tongue, which means he observes his son and knows his characteristics off the top of his head. Finally, the father’s love for his son and reckless tendencies merge in the final example. When the father is told that the only road they can take to get home is closed due to snow, reality sets in as he realizes that his son won’t be home in time for Christmas dinner with his mother. With their marriage already on the rocks, the father knows his wife won’t forgive him and that this would be the last straw; especially after he snuck his underage son into a nightclub and his wife found out. After the father finished eating, “he went to the pay phone in the back of the diner….

When the trooper’s car went past, lights flashing, he got up and dropped some money on the check”. The father knows that the trooper blocking the road would never open the road just for them, so he decides to take matters into his own hands. He breaks the law by calling in a false emergency in order to get the police officer out of their way. His illegal activity is somewhat justified by his motives; he was only trying to get his son back home to his mom and by extension keep the family together. This problem could have been avoided if they had left earlier instead of skiing a few more runs, but they left late due to his spontaneous tendencies.


In conclusion, Wolff developed the father as an irresponsible yet loving character through the many examples of characterization previously mentioned. Wolff also masterfully developed the character of the son in his story. The son is shown to be meticulous and organized nearly to the point of OCD. Throughout the story, we can see his growth as a character when he lets go of the rules a little. One example of his uptight nature can be found where the son is reflecting on his own inclinations: “I was a boy who kept his clothes on numbered hangers to insure proper rotation”. The son is high strung, he likes having control over every aspect of his life and he lives by his own set of strict rules. He plans ahead so that he knows what’s going to happen and is never caught by surprise. This method works for him and gives him comfort. When he has to face a situation which he is not prepared for, he is pushed out of his comfort zone and that loss of control develops his character. The son finally accepts that he can’t control every situation in the following excerpt: “I thought ahead. I knew that there would be other troopers waiting for us at the end of our ride. I knew we’d get caught; I was resigned to it for this reason I stopped moping and began to enjoying myself”. In the story when he lets go a little, he starts to really live in the moment. The two examples show the way this character was developed throughout the story from an uptight kid to someone who can let go of his need for control and allow himself to live a little.

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The author chose to present his characters in this way to highlight their differences and show how their personalities affect each other. Wolff manages to communicate the message of the story because of the characters’ different dispositions. The message of the story was summed up by the last sentence, “if you haven’t driven fresh powder, you haven’t driven”. The idea that this quote brings to mind is that if you haven’t broken the rules or let go a little, you haven’t truly lived. The father’s personality is the opposite of the son’s and the way the two interact and help each other grow show the reader the message of the story. The father’s reckless actions lead to the son’s character growth and pass the message along to the reader. To conclude, the author chose to develop the characters with opposite personalities to show how they affect each other and help the reader see the message of the story with the help of indirect characterization and development.

Works Cited

  1. Buysse, D. J. (2014). Sleep health: can we define it? Does it matter? Sleep, 37(1), 9-17.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. Retrieved from
  3. Diekelmann, S., & Born, J. (2010). The memory function of sleep. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11, 114-126.
  4. Grandner, M. A., Jackson, N. J., Gerstner, J. R., & Knutson, K. L. (2014). Sleep symptoms associated with intake of specific dietary nutrients. Journal of Sleep Research, 23(1), 22-34.
  5. Institute of Medicine. (2006). Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation: an unmet public health problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  6. Knutson, K. L. (2013). Sociodemographic and cultural determinants of sleep deficiency: implications for cardiometabolic disease risk. Social Science & Medicine, 79, 7-15.
  7. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2011). Your guide to healthy sleep. Retrieved from
  8. Patel, S. R., Hu, F. B., (2008). Short sleep duration and weight gain: a systematic review. Obesity, 16(3), 643-653.
  9. Riemann, D., Baglioni, C., Bassetti, C., Bjorvatn, B., Dolenc Groselj, L., Ellis, J. G., … Spiegelhalder, K. (2017). European guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia. Journal of Sleep Research, 26(6), 675-700.
  10. Tsai, L. L., Li, S. P., & Sleep, A. (2018). Sleep patterns in older adults with Alzheimer's disease. Journal of Nursing Research, 26(4), 219-225.
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“Powder” by Tobias Wolff: Analysis of The Characters Development. (2022, April 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
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