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In the short story "Duck Season," T. Alan Broughton introduces an everyday family from upstate New York, during the windy, fall season. The protagonist, Gracie, is dying of cancer, while her husband and children live in denial and try their best to carry on with their lives. Broughton uses the repeated structural device of flashback to depict a vivid image from the eyes of a lonely, bed-ridden Gracie. In looking at this story from a structural criticism, it can be broken down into seven parts that reinforce the theme: Cherish the time with a loved one because it can end in an untimely manner.
To begin, Gracie is lying in bed one morning and she describes the scenery through her window: "This fall had been unusually mild, but all night the wind had shaken and battered the house, ripping away the warm rainy weather" (135). Sadly, Gracie's only outlet to the outside world is what she sees through her bedroom window and her memories of when she was well. Broughton then uses flashback to introduce Gracie's husband Len. He is a mechanic by trade and stubborn by nature. The author describes the euphoria of duck hunting season as a symbol for the world of denial Len lives in, because he cannot face the fact that Gracie was dying of cancer. "Once she had said to Len, I'm going to die soon, Stop trying to pretend, but he looked at her as if she had betrayed him" (136). Len's state of denial continues to be reinforced until the climax of the story.
In the second part of the story, Broughton presents Len and Gracie's three young children: Georgie, Betsey, and Adele. He also presents Father Rivard, who later makes Len address the reality of Gracie's dying. Broughton shows that the children are being taught to move on with their lives before Gracie even passes. They became uncomfortable in their mother's presence. "She noticed how relieved they were to turn and go" (137). Then, Broughton employs irony in his flashback to liken Gracie to her son Georgie, all-alone in the schoolyard. "Now all of them were that way, further and further away from her, and sometimes even the children seemed to look at her from a huge distance" (137).
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Third, Broughton briefly describes Gracie's usual meeting with her mother-in-law. She is the antagonist, who already addresses Gracie as if she does not exist and who tries to influence Len and the children to do the same. "Of course they were not going to make promises. They had their lives to live, and again she resented them bitterly" (138). This is a very significant part because Len's mother is the instrument causing the his state of denial.
Next, Broughton uses the trees in Gracie's backyard as symbols of her deterioration or well being. "She has asked the Farnsworths again and again to have the tree cut down, all but dead for two years now...it was coming down limb by limb anyway" (139). This coincides with the cancer's eating away at Gracie, for she is down to mere bone and tendons, no muscle. There are also tall, healthy maple and ash trees there, which made her happy: "Trees, trees, she loved them" (139). Those trees also represent companionship for Gracie. Unlike her family, they will not abandon her. She can always look out the window and find solace from watching the trees blowing in the wind.
The sick and dying tree is further used as a symbol in the next component of the story. Lissy Farnsworth, a relative of Gracie's neighbors, is fond of Len, and Gracie predicts that they will be together when she dies. "It was obvious why Lissy was there. He was letting the kids begin to get used to her" (140). This reinforces the flashback about the decrepit tree on the Farnsworth's property. They were waiting for it to die. In the same way, the Farnsworths anticipated Gracie's passing, so that Lissy could be Len's new wife.
In the sixth part, Broughton employs more flashback to illuminate how it sometimes comforts Gracie. She recalls a time when Len took her duck hunting with him. "[H]is hands held her so tightly, the boat rocked so crazily under them that she began to laugh too, and they had to sit down together" (142). However, from the previous components of the story, Broughton reveals that duck hunting has become an alternative reality for Len, and a tragic, lonely exercise for Gracie. Now Len uses duck hunting to escape the fact his wife is dying of cancer.
All the pieces come together in the last component. Gracie learns that Father Rivard has tried all along to help Len and the children deal with her deteriorating condition. He tells Len someone has to explain cancer to the children and how it is killing their mother. Len asks Gracie: "Tell them about dying. About how you're going to die. [And] then he was weeping and she held on with all her strength (143). This climax has a twofold effect: Len is no longer in denial and he begins to sob, for his wife is going to die, and he loves her dearly; and Gracie realizes she is no longer alone in her pain.
Broughton, T. Alan. "Duck Season." Angles of Vision. Ed. Arthur W. Biddle and Toby Fulwiler. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1992: 135-143.