Ralph the Duck Questions and Answers
by Frederick Busch

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What are some quotes from Ralph the Duck by Frederick Busch? This is a study guide question posted by eNotes Editorial. Please identify and analyze at least 3 quotes in your response.

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The narrator's life seems is thrown into turmoil very early in the story. He is inauspiciously awoken by the sound of his very large dog vomiting—who ate from a dead and frozen deer the day before—and he has to carry the dog outside. In doing so, he passes his wife, Fanny, who has slept on the couch because they had an argument the night before. He plans to apologize "because [he] always did," and then, soon, Fanny would forgive him "if [he] hadn't been too awful—[he] didn't think [he'd] been that bad." The narrator tells us, sort of jokingly:

I was the oldest college student in America.

At forty-two, he knows he's not—that there are much older people who graduate (we see them in the news), but his ties to the college and his rocky relationship status seem to mark him as someone who has never quite grown up. He seems to accept that he was the perpetrator in the fight with Fanny, implying a lack of maturity on his part.

Later, when the narrator tells his wife about the low grade he earned on his Rhetoric and Persuasion assignment, he says:

"I wrote about Ralph the Duck."
She said, "You did?" She said, "Honey." She came over and stood beside the rocker and leaned into me and hugged my head and neck. "Honey," she said. "Honey."

It seems that the story he wrote for that assignment, which was meant to persuade someone of something, is actually something he'd come up with before. Fanny already knows about it, and she is made sad by the reference to it as well as by the way the grade has affected him. It is later revealed that they had a daughter at some point, but it is never clear what exactly happened to her, though it seems fair to assume that the daughter died.

When he gets the call about the intoxicated kid at the quarry and sees that it is the same red-haired student he helped once before—the same student who has been having an affair with the narrator's professor—the narrator describes how he checks her breathing: how she pants "like a kid asleep on your lap for a nap." He drives dangerously, desperate to get her to safety. He tells us:

I said to the girl, whose head was slumped and whose face looked too blue all through its whiteness, "You know, I had a girl once. My wife, Fanny. She and I had a small girl one time." I reached over and touched her cheek.

It is implied that he had tried to save his daughter and could not, which is why he is so desperately trying to save this girl who he now treats as his own: he wraps her in a blanket, gives her his own mittens, and carries her to the truck. The doctors take her away, trying to save her, and the narrator mentions:

"She better not die this time," I guess I said.

This line supports the idea that the narrator is thinking of his own daughter when he tries to help this girl. This experience seems to finally afford him a sense of maturity, and he even tells Fanny that he told the girl stories like "Ralph the Duck." He's a "hero" now, Fanny says, though she knows he hates that idea. The narrator seems to have finally embraced adulthood and his own relationship seems more stable as a result.

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