What is the theme of "Ralph the Duck" by Frederick Busch ? I found it hard to come up with a sentence that can convey all of the aspects in the story (the conflict b/t the narrator and his professor, "sexual harassment" vs. the love the narrator has as a father for the girl) to the making of the theme.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Ralph the Duck" is one of fourteen stories in Frederick Busch's anthology novel Absent Friends. It revolves around a couple quietly suffering after the loss of their daughter. The main protagonist is the husband, who is employed as a security officer and custodian at an American...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

"Ralph the Duck" is one of fourteen stories in Frederick Busch's anthology novel Absent Friends. It revolves around a couple quietly suffering after the loss of their daughter. The main protagonist is the husband, who is employed as a security officer and custodian at an American university. At one point, he risks his own life to save a student who has gone missing in the freezing cold, perhaps as a way to make sure some other parent doesn't have to go through the same thing he did.

A recurring theme in the story is the death of children, and some have postulated that Busch may have derived the story based on fears of losing his own sons, one of whom served in the Iraq War. Coupled with the feeling of loss is the intensity with which parents can love their child and the pain that it can create in such situations.

We're shown the power of empathy and how we can get more in touch with our own humanity when we're able to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. By empathizing with a broken character who is trying to pick himself up, be a better person, have a better future, and make a better marriage, it inspires the rest of us to do the same.

The story is also about the power of words and how we can use them to express ourselves and change our worldview. The protagonist takes a writing course and is constantly unable to find the right words to express himself either verbally or in writing. However, when he rescues the suicidal student, who happens to be unconscious and unable to hear him, he finally finds the words with which to share his own tragic loss. This act of catharsis is a key moment in his own internal healing.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the central themes in the story is coping with loss. All of the dysfunctional expressions in the story--especially the alienation that the unnamed narrator experiences on multiple levels--point back to the death of his daughter. Or, rather, the damaging affects of losing a loved one is a closer description of the story's theme. The alienation and sense of misunderstanding that the narrator experiences between the student he meets (who interprets his affection for sexual harassment), his professor (who is condescending towards him), and with his wife, who is struggling with the same debilitating pain, all correlates to the brokenness brought on by the death of his daughter. His role as a security guard and his understanding of "Rhetoric and Persuasion" is seen through the lens of his painful past.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team