“Powder” Summary & Analysis: Tobias Wolff Short Story

Powder Summary Analysis Tobias Wolff Short Story
“Powder” Summary & Analysis

“Powder” is a short story by Tobias Wolff where the narrator recounts a memorable father/son ski trip while the boy’s parents were separated. The father’s personality, for good and bad, is on full display on the morning they leave the resort, and is in sharp contrast to the son’s. This article begins with a summary of “Powder” and is followed by an analysis and look at theme.

“Powder” Summary

The narrator remembers when he was living with his mother and his father took him skiing before Christmas, on the condition he would be home for dinner on Christmas Eve.

It snows that morning as they’re checking out. His father insists they get in one last run, and they get in several. The boy isn’t in to it and would rather be home. When they finally leave, time is tight and the boy doesn’t want to stop at the diner.

Outside the resort, there are sawhorses on the road and a state trooper approaches. The road has been closed. He doesn’t know when it will be cleared. The father wants to risk it, but the trooper won’t relent. The father turns around and they go to the diner.

He knows the boy’s mother won’t forgive him. After they eat, he makes a call from the diner. He watches out the window until the trooper’s flashing car leaves.

They drive up to the barricade. The boy moves it aside and puts it back after the car comes through. The father jokes about making him an accomplice. The snow they drive on is untouched. He can feel it under the floorboards.

The boy’s hands shake. The father tells him not to try this when he’s older—it’s not one of his strong points. The father happens to be a great driver and the car is up to the task. The boy asks where the policeman went but doesn’t get an answer.

It’s hardly snowing now so the father turns the wipers off. They enter a broad field where orange stakes mark the road.

The boy asks about his strong points. He always thinks ahead, which is true. He keeps his clothes organized and schedules his homework. He also knows there’ll be troopers on the other end and they’ll get caught. He didn’t know his father would talk his way out of it and get him home for supper, buying a little time before his mother made the split final.

Resigned to getting caught, the boy enjoys the ride. It’s like being in a speedboat going downhill and it’s only them on the road. The boy couldn’t do it, but his father really is a great driver and he trusts him. He handles the car with subtlety and precision. If you haven’t driven fresh powder, you haven’t really driven.

(End of “Powder” summary)

“Powder” Analysis

The father/son relationship is a clear theme in “Powder” and it invites us to compare and contrast the two personalities. They are opposites in many ways. The father is impetuous and likes to improvise while the son plans ahead and likes routine. This is emphasized in the father by his preference for jazz and his scat humming while he drives.

Everything would have gone as planned (the son’s preference) if the father hadn’t decided at the last minute to get more skiing in on the fresh powder. He seems to enjoy the chaos of skiing in the windy snowfall while the boy just tries not to go off a cliff.

The father’s impetuousness allows him to phone in a fake emergency to draw the trooper away, thus letting them break the law. He doesn’t consider (as his son does) that there will be officers on the other side of the blockade and they’ll be caught.

The father is very confident in his abilities, “flushed with certainty”, which contributes to his impetuousness. He’s used to getting out of difficult situations. He’s able to navigate the dangerous roads on the way home, and he’s able to talk his way past the policemen on the other side of the blockade.

The boy wouldn’t take any of these risks. He wanted to leave in the morning like they planned and wanted the comfort of being back home.

Related to these things is that the father is “bankrupt of honor”, according to the boy. The boy follows rules and likes order. In contrast, the father breaks rules, which isn’t honorable. He previously sneaked his underage son into a nightclub. He risks breaking his word for some extra skiing. He wastes a police officer’s time with a fake emergency call. He breaks the law by driving through a roadblock. He “wheedles and pleads” his way past the police at the other end, no doubt lying in the process.

Despite their differences, the son appreciates his father’s driving skill and enjoys the ride. Although the conditions are dangerous, the son “actually trusted him” while the father expertly handled the car and navigated the snow.

The boy’s conclusion, “if you haven’t driven fresh powder, you haven’t driven”, implies he’s learned a lesson about life. If you don’t take some chances and have fun, you’re not really living. There’s no reason to think the boy’s personality changes from this point on to match his father’s. Rather, he’ll be able to integrate this realization into his own personality, tempering his forethought and caution with a little bit of his father’s confidence.

I hope this summary and analysis of “Powder” by Tobias Wolff was helpful.