Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

It is not surprising that Joanne Greenberg included “Hunting Season” in her 1972 collection entitled Rites of Passage. This is a story about a passage from innocence to experience. One might expect the story to focus on the young boy’s experiences in the forest. Ironically, however, the central interest in “Hunting Season” is the effect that a boy’s growing up has on his mother, who must make the hard decision to let her offspring make his way, in whatever small way he can, into the world of adulthood.

Though adults have all been through the process themselves, it nevertheless appears to be a terrifying trial when their children are the ones who are trying to break away from parental control. The mother in “Hunting Season” is not unaware of what is happening. She is disappointed that her son cannot see that she was once a carefree girl who enjoyed many of the same things that he does now. Nevertheless, she is caught up in her role as homemaker, wife, and mother to such an extent that she has little time to share her life with her son. To her, he is simply a child, something to be cared for but not given serious attention.

The mother’s world is clearly defined by the limits of her house. She is no longer a part of the outside world; her domain is inside the home, where she brings order and provides for all of her family’s needs. As a consequence, she has lost something of herself; the days when she would “stamp windowpanes out of frozen puddles” are gone, and though she is “a little ashamed,” she cannot find the time to treat her young son’s emotional problems with the same degree of seriousness that she gives to his physical disability: The boy does not know the suffering that epilepsy brings, but he has felt the pain of losing his best friend, who has moved away.

The world outside appears to be a harsh one, and the contrast between “inside” and “outside” is magnified by the presence of the hunters and the physical dangers of the landscape. Psychologically, Greenberg suggests that the comforts of the womb stand in sharp contrast to the world outside. However, the child must leave that womb, both physically and psychologically, if he is to grow in the world. At the same time, the mother must be willing to set the child free from her body and from her influence if his growth is to be successful. The “passage” in “Hunting Season” occurs primarily on this psychological level.

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