Ralph the Duck Questions and Answers
by Frederick Busch

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Please write an in-depth summary of Ralph the Duck by Frederick Busch. This is a study guide question posted by eNotes Editorial. Please note that this material is intended to supplement the information presented in our eNotes study guide.

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In this story, an unnamed narrator wakes up to find his dog barfing, so he carries him outside. His wife, Fanny, is asleep on the couch—as they had a fight last night. He works for a local college, doing maintenance and handling on-campus emergencies and the like; as a member of the staff, he gets to take one class per term, and he is currently enrolled in a literature and writing course. His professor is a bit pretentious and offers pretty unsatisfying responses to the narrator's writing. One night, he has to help his professor when the man's car has a dead battery, and he can tell that his professor wants him to have a "history" (e.g., like being a Vietnam veteran).

On another night, the narrator has to help a student, a young red-haired girl, who is inebriated and appears to be sad about an ex. The narrator hugs her, and she accuses him of sexual harassment. He writes another essay for class, and his professor tries to explain that one should not use profane language in college papers. He continues to feel that his professor expects a crazy backstory from him, and he obliges him for a while, later confessing that he made it all up. Still later, he says that he's killed people, and his professor seems happy to have been right.

For his next assignment, the narrator has to "write something to influence somebody. [The professor] called it Rhetoric and Persuasion." The narrator writes a story called "Ralph the Duck" about a duck that has no feathers on his wings. When Ralph gets cold, his mommy duck hugs him tightly and Ralph falls asleep, warm and happy.

The narrator earns a D, and the professor thinks that he didn't understand the assignment. When he tells Fanny about it, it sounds as though "Ralph the Duck" is not new but, rather, something they'd come up with before his assignment. We learn, later, that they had a little girl once; we can assume that she died. Perhaps he originally made up the story for her.

One day, the worst winter storm in years hits the college, which closes down. He gets a call about a girl who has gone missing; her friends believe that she went to a local quarry. It's dangerous driving and unsafe conditions, but he does eventually find her: she's the same red-head from before, high on some kind of pills. She wants to die, but he wraps her in blankets and puts her in his truck. He gets her to the hospital and turns her over to the doctors.

The next day, Fanny asks him about the experience, and he tells her that he "did Rhetoric and Persuasion"—meaning that he told the girl stories. Fanny tells him that he'd better get to his next class early to tell his professor "to jack up [his] grade" since, clearly, he was able to persuade the girl not to remain in the cold and kill herself.

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