Tobias Wolff

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Flyboys Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tobias Wolff's Flyboys. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff was born to Rosemary and Arthur Wolff in Alabama in 1945. Wolff’s parents divorced when he was five, after which he lived in many places with his mother (and later his stepfather), including Seattle and Washington’s North Cascade mountains. During this time, he lived apart from his older brother and father, who remained on the east coast. Wolff was admitted to The Hill School in Philadelphia after high school, but he was later expelled when the college discovered his records had been falsified. Wolff then joined the military, serving in the Army Special Forces in Vietnam until 1968. Upon returning, Wolff received his degree in English from Hertford College, and his MA from Stanford University in 1975. Six years later, his first collection of short stories, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, was published. He joined the English faculty at Syracuse alongside Raymond Carver shortly after, and many contemporary American writers such as George Saunders and Alice Sebold studied under his instruction. He published widely in this time, including his second collection of short stories, Back in the World, and his first memoir, This Boy’s Life, and he received the O. Henry Award for his writing three times between 1981 and 1985. In 1997, Wolff returned to Stanford and continues to teach Creative Writing at the university.
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Historical Context of Flyboys

The American Realism movement grew in the postmodern era after the end of World War 2. At the time, culture in the United States was shifting rapidly in light of a freshly booming economy, the expansion of the middle class, and mass-migration to suburban areas. In response, writers in the American Realism movement focus on the intimate, mundane realities of life, writing critically about the classism and conformity that cloak individual identity and truth.

Other Books Related to Flyboys

During the second half of the 20th century, the short story rose to prominence, with many fiction writers working almost exclusively in that form. Wolff’s minimalist realism and his sparse prose have been compared to other short story writers such as John Cheever, Raymond Carver, and Andre Dubus. While Wolff and his peers have been criticized for cynicism, their shared examination of the new realities of suburban American life in the postmodern world is balanced by intimate, compassionate portrayals of their characters.
Key Facts about Flyboys
  • Full Title: Flyboys
  • When Published: 1996
  • Literary Period: American Realism
  • Genre: Fiction (Short Story)
  • Setting: A small town in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State
  • Climax: Clark asks the narrator if they should include their classmate Freddy in their existing plans to design and build a jet plane, but the narrator requests that they exclude Freddy and keep their plans between the two of them.
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for Flyboys

Return to Fiction. After publishing several novels and collections of short stories, Wolff shifted his writing focus. For nearly a decade Wolff favored nonfiction, publishing a memoir about his childhood after his parents’ divorce, This Boy’s Life, in 1989 and a memoir about his time in the military, In Pharaoh’s Army, in 1994. The Night in Question (1997), the short story collection in which “Flyboys” was originally published, marked Wolff’s return to the fiction genre. 

Family Business. Tobias Wolff’s brother, Geoffrey Wolff, is also a notable writer and has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Academy in Berlin. Ten years before Tobias Wolff’s award-winning memoir, This Boy’s Life, Geoffrey Wolff published his own memoir about the boys’ biological father in 1979.