“I’m Here”: Isolation and presence in the short stories of Tobias Wolff

Journal article

Ireson-Howells, T. 2022. “I’m Here”: Isolation and presence in the short stories of Tobias Wolff. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. https://doi.org/10.1080/00111619.2022.2063708
AuthorsIreson-Howells, T.

This article argues that Tobias Wolff critiques a doctrine of individualism, formed particularly in America during the Eighties, which has informed a central dynamic in his writing. Wolff depicts characters who must struggle to move away from solipsistic ideologies by seeing beyond habitual cycles of stagnated and destructive behavior. In many of his stories, characters are caught between a guarded sense of distance, versus an imperative to connect with those around them. I argue that the perceived vulnerability of forming relationships and the complex duties of moral decision-making create a tension that forms the basis of much of Wolff’s storytelling. I argue that Wolff shows how a focus on the present rather than on fleeting impulses or a fixation with the past can elucidate his protagonists’ lives. Three of Wolff’s stories close with the same two words: “I’m here.” I explore why this short sentence has such resonance in his work by drawing connections between these stories which span thirty years. In each case, the speaker is doing far more than consoling a person in distress. These precise words depict characters tentatively seeking to redefine themselves in climactic moments of self-growth.

KeywordsTobias Wolff; Short stories; American literature
JournalCritique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1080/00111619.2022.2063708
Official URLhttps://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00111619.2022.2063708
Publication dates
Online15 Apr 2022
Publication process dates
Accepted16 Mar 2022
Deposited25 Apr 2022
Publisher's version
Output statusPublished
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License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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