‘The Hunter’ by E. L. Doctorow: Short Story Analysis
‘The Hunter’ is a surreal modernist short story penned by one of the greatest American writers of the last century, namely E. L. Doctorow. The writer’s full name is Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, and he was a resident of New York. He was an award-winning author of many books, and President Barack Obama was very fond of him as a writer. E. L. Doctorow passed away in 2015, leaving a legacy of differently styled stories, his trademark writing style. Doctorow loved to write stories and novels differently compared to conventional norms and writing styles. ‘The Hunter’ is one such story where the school’s new bus driver stalks a young teacher. She is young, imaginative, and enthusiastic. At the same time, she is hysterical, easily depressed, hyperactive, and childish. This young teacher frantically visits seven different places in this story. Her behavior’s furtive quality, especially when she is on the bridge, leads us to presume that she was being stalked. She was being hunted by the new sandy-haired bus driver who unnerved her to such an extent that she acts indecently with her students the next time she is with them. One cannot ignore the subtle hints mentioned about the young teacher’s pedophilic tendencies and her pride. But she was hunted, and it broke her in more ways than one.
The young teacher is new to her school. She teaches at a school that is nearly abandoned except for the one class she takes and supervises. The students come from poor blue-collared factory worker’s families. These blue-collared workers are like ghosts with a dark past. Their children, too, are like little adults who have seen way too much hardship for their own good. Their eyelids are blue, their skin is blotchy, and they are weak and wan. This young teacher tries to infuse interest in life and its many wonders in these children’s lives. However, she is also a person who is aware of how she can make children fall in love with her, both girls and boys. She shares this fact with the new school bus driver as they sit with their beer in the seventh-place the young teacher visits in this story.
I would have preferred to name the places the young teacher visited as ‘scenes’, which would include an eight scene when the teacher was having her bath in a tub as well as urinating into it. However, I will divide the places she visited almost frantically into seven places, which are as follows:
- The School.
- The Old Age Home.
- The Mansion.
- The Druggist.
- The Movie Theatre.
- Downtown near the Newspaper and Magazine Stand.
- A Bar called ‘The Rapids’.
Note the colors used by Doctorow to create some mirage of colors in this short story titled ‘The Hunter’. There is a lot of focus on the color yellow: like the urine in the bathtub, the school bus, sandy hair of the new bus driver, et al. It seems by the use of these colors in a particular area that Doctorow wants to add a deeper inner essence and reality to his short story.
From the moment the new bus driver set his eyes on the new teacher, he started to stalk her. However, there is a mention of a hunter dressed in bright and striking colors of orange and red who shoots at the mansion where the young teacher has just gone or rather trespassed. It is after this shooting that the young teacher asks her town physician for a vial of valium. Something went wrong with that single gunshot. It seems like all the laughter and gaiety that the young teacher had in life disappeared with that singular gunshot. She then goes to a movie theatre with the valium and swallows many of the tablets; they are of lower potency. She is ill at ease and seems to be acting psychotic. She feels she is being followed. But we know she is right as she was being followed. When she reaches the final place, ‘The Rapids’, she finds the new bus driver waiting for her with his beer glass and pack of cigarettes. He gets into a conversation with her. He tells her that he was a certified driver with a chauffeur’s driving license and had a clean record. She, in turn, tells him that she is a teacher and had a college education. The sandy-haired man mentions on her prodding that he has two sisters working at desk jobs in a lumber mill. The young teacher feels safer with him because he has sisters. She seems to have the notion that men with sisters do not harm other women. It is a highly cliched and silly analysis of the situation, but the young teacher is a person who is not exactly all there.
The hunter mentioned earlier in the woods overlooking the abandoned mansion is probably not the sandy-haired new school bus driver. The clothes the hunter was wearing were too striking to be worn for hunting animals. The question is left to conjecture. What exactly was he hunting, and why did he shoot at the young teacher? Doctorow has used a very different way to present his story to the reader, which appeals to me. We can decipher so many different meanings from the short story. It is a short story to discuss more than just read and absorb. By the by, if you are interested in reading a book of short stories, you can check out my LGBTQIA short story collection titled The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name on the products page of my blog. You won’t regret it. The book was a winner at the 2018 DBW Awards.
The new school bus driver lived in Valdese, far away from where the young teacher stayed. He playfully mentions to the teacher that he was following her. Instead of fleeing or asking for help, the teacher gets into his truck and is almost molested by him. Soon is a scene where she takes a class photograph with her students. She seemed to be hysterical at this point and looked mentally disturbed. To be one with her students who have grimy and unkempt looks, she loosens and ruffles her hair and kneels for the photograph. She implores her students to hug her, which they do because she is irresistible. However, they don’t like how she is hugging them; we know this because one girl begins to cry. The photographer is baffled and astonished by the strange behavior of this young teacher. The story ends with the young teacher begging and beseeching the photographer to take her photograph. Whether he does or not is left to our imagination. The young teacher’s raw emotions, her nakedness in front of her children, and her yearning for a better life are evident in the story, especially at the end.
This story is more about the feelings, movements, the subtle hints at mental instability and a haunting sense of illusionary realism that we as existentialists contend with in literature. Doctorow has told the story of a stalker and his prey. He would have molested her if she had not acted quickly and got out of the truck when the sandy-haired man dropped her home in his truck. With every move of the young teacher, we see no connection with each act because she is unpredictable. And aren’t all of us unpredictable? We, too, don’t exactly do things in sequence. A boy may dump his steady girlfriend, but he may go to a party instead of mourning the loss after the breakup. ‘The Hunter’ is not a direct ‘cause and effect’ tale; instead, it’s an ethereal story of actions.
I want to dwell on a few things before I end this analysis of E. L. Doctorow’s short story titled ‘The Hunter’:
- The short story’s title is about two hunters, the one in the forest and the other the new school bus driver.
- The young teacher was too enthusiastic about her teaching. She was an idealist who liked to teach through playacting using all the five senses, thus helping her students’ well-being.
- The young teacher feels so dirty after the new school bus driver tried to touch her that she has a bath in her tub to wash off the feeling.
- There is a section where the young teacher fears that the new school bus driver may have kidnapped the children. She knows that many terrible sacred rites used to happen in the town, and the new bus driver should not try to mess with the people of this town.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short story by E. L. Doctorow. President Obama rightly called the author a master in his craft. I have just read and reviewed a book related to President Barack Obama titled To Obama: With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair by Jeanne Marie Laskas. You can check out my book review on my blog. I hope to read and analyze more short stories by American writers for the next couple of days in keeping with the fact that the American elections are going on. I want to analyze and present to you some of the greatest American writers in fiction.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out the products page on my blog or my author’s page on Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan
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