Tobias Wolff: Say Yes Essay Example
Tobias Wolff: Say Yes Essay Example

Tobias Wolff: Say Yes Essay Example

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  • Pages: 5 (1137 words)
  • Published: November 29, 2021
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Tobias Wolff was born on 19th June 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama to Rosemary and Arthur Samuels Wolff. His parents divorced, and Wolff followed his mother to the Pacific North-west. His mother remarried and relocated to Newhalem. He schooled in Concrete High School in Washington and proceeded to Hill School but was later expelled. He enrolled in the U.S Army and served during the Vietnam War after which he later educated at University of Oxford and Stanford. He received Wallace Stegner Fellowship in creative writing. His earlier experiences with the abusive stepfather shaped the essential attitudes of his adulthood (Wolff 19).

Wolff developed a passion for reading and writing when he was still young and attributes his work to his brother whom they reunited in the teenage hood. He influenced him to read all kind of writers such as Camus


and Sophocles. Other writers like Paul Bowles, Sherwood Anderson, and Raymond Carver were of great influence on his fiction. He began publishing regularly, and his stories appeared in numerous magazines which have made him win numerous grants and national prizes for instance awards from the National Endowment for the Arts. Wolff has a preference for short stories because he feels it makes him cooperate with the story, unlike the long stories which make him feel like he is beating them into existence (Packard 37).

Wolff regards his work as an inherently optimistic art. According to Wolff, so many things in this world lead us to despair, and the final symptom of depression is silence. He points out that storytelling is one of the sustaining and affirming arts. His fiction is therefore based on the significant relationships and choices

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that individuals make in everyday life. During his life, Wolff had many careers which include lecturer in creative writing, professor of English and creative writing, a reporter for Washington Post and lieutenant in U.S Army (Packard 43). Much of his fiction is built from his memoirs and reworked recollections. His works are edited versions of his personal history. For instance, he recounted his wartime experiences in the memoir “In The Pharaoh’s Army: Memoirs of the Lost War” (Wolff 32).

Following his life’s experiences, Wolff was motivated to write about some of the factors that affected him. In the story “Say Yes”, Wolff features on racism. He conveys the story through dialogue to reveal insight, motivation, character, psychological perspective and meaning to the utterances of characters. “Say Yes” is a racist story between a wife and husband. The wife dislikes the beliefs of her husband that African-Americans are different from the Whites. “They don’t come from the same culture as we do…A person from their culture and a person from our culture could never really know each other well”. The story is a reflection of the anti-war movement he was upset with after he was released from Special Forces training (Werlock 15).

Personal experiences and careful observation have made Wolff to connect characters and their conflicts to the reader. This relates to his opinion that a writer might have certain pessimism in his appearance, but the very act of being a writer seems an optimistic act. The characters in the story are decent people who are capable of things they never expected. This is portrayed in the wife’s question where she asks her husband if he could have

married her if she were a Black. The man does not find a suitable answer but merely makes excuses about why they wouldn’t have met or fallen in love. Wolff uses his classical writing style to trick the reader by not mentioning the race of the narrator or protagonist.

“Say Yes” also features on internalized sexism. The wife’s decision to help the wife with the dishes is not motivated by the belief that it is a partnership but only wants to show his wife and friends how “considerate” he can be. The author reflects on second wave feminism by evaluating on how the changing standards of male and female have contributed to husband’s biases in regards to housework. Wolff presents an opportunity for the reader to reflect their biases concerning traditional race and gender roles. Through Wolff’s life, readers can understand the historical context of racism and sexism as brought out in “Say Yes.”

Tobias Wolff had a significant influence on modern American writers. He used the critical literacy lens to expose and undermine the belief that Whiteness is normal. He accomplishes these using distinct symbols. By cutting herself, Anne offers sacrificial blood to the relationship. The blood falls on the floor, and the husband takes up in cleaning the blood. Wolff also uses the fighting dogs to depict the human nature as animalistic (Werlock 410). The selfishness of the dogs when they refuse to share the garbage reflects humans for force each other to be submissive. Through this reflection, Wolff has given other writers the courage to talk about difficult topics like race and gender.

Closer to the end of the story, the husband begins to feel

overwhelmed with the thoughts of love for his wife. He tells her that he would marry her no matter what but the wife does not give him any response. His previous negative response has however resulted in the same separation, and the woman becomes a stranger to him. “The room was silent…the sound of someone moving through it, a stranger” (Wolff 22). This incident indicates the pervasive and destructive nature of racism.

Wolff confronts theories on love, identity, and race. It is clear that the husband is a racist but seems to be dishonest with him. In as much as he appreciates the stability that life has given him in the company of Ann, he still makes efforts to undermine it. Wolff uses the husband’s rejection of his wife to reflect the experiences of his mother with the biological father which led to divorce. It is evident that her husband's response inflicts the wife, and thus wife does not, therefore, commit to forgive him at the end of the story.

Works Cited

  • Packard, Dennis J. The Film Novelist: Writing a Screenplay and Short Novel in 15 Weeks. New York: Continuum, 2011. Print.
  • Werlock, Abby H. P. Encyclopedia of the American Short Story. New York: Facts on File, 2013. Web.
  • Wolff, Tobias. Back in the World: Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 2011. Web.
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