A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

February 26, 2010
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Many people seem to read books by the surface of the pages and don't dive into the meaning lying underneath the surface. In Norman's book, floating on the surface is not the right way to read because he wants us to uncover the truths from his life. Throughout the novella A River Runs Through It written by the author Norman Maclean, he seems to want to tell his readers that a river is like many things in life.

In this story, Paul uses fly fishing, a great and fond hobby of his family's, to bring him life. This causes Norman to relate water to life using metaphor- on page 44, Norman describes this vaguely by saying, “Poets talk about spots of time, but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment.” I believe this is a significant quote because it tells us that fly fishermen, like Paul and Norman, find endless moments in what they do. Time stops at that moment when a fish grabs the line and displays a massive amount of life as it leaps out of the water. The life of the fish is then transferred to the fishermen causing total blindness to everything else around that moment.

The book also states that life began when the glacial lake emptied into the North American west. It seems Norman wants us to understand that the life in this area began with the Blackfoot- such as page 104 stating, “The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” This is telling us that the people who use the river or “life” are the ones who bring life to the water and everything surrounding it. I think that Paul's story lies in the rocks and river because it rained on them when he was evaporated from this earth. Eventually later when Norman dies, his words will flow with his brother's once again. Maybe Norman believes the life of a fisherman continues after death, because it flows in the timeless life of the earth, the river.

Norman may have a point throughout the book about the distances between Paul and the river itself in the vision of life. When Paul is close to life he behaves, but if he drifts further downstream then he causes problems for everybody's normal Montanan lifestyle. An example of this is on page 24 when Norman has to pick Paul up from his fight, “What do you do to help him? I asked. After a long pause, he said, I take him fishing.” There is an answer within this statement. The sergeant is giving a clue that he takes his brother fishing, so Norman should take Paul. The problems occur when Paul isn't surrounded by the molecules of life, because the bar draws him closer on the other end of the divide. The life of the river is the way Norman needed to solve Paul's problems. The bar was death and the Blackfoot was life and Paul was in the balance. Fishing could have saved Paul's life and Norman finally understood that when he wrote the book.

I believe because that Norman knows he could have saved his brother, he drifted away from the life of the river. On page 104- it states, “I am haunted by waters.” I believe that Norman is covering up his sorrows with this final statement. Offering help wasn't enough to cheat Paul's death at his early age. Norman realized that he should have forced his brother to regain life by fishing with his hands and not fighting with them. Creating perfect harmony into a rhythm of sport and fun is challenging. Paul had a wonderful gift, and he threw that all away all because of one little drink. A drink so powerful, that his life would never be able to reach the nourishing feel and sounds of the river ever again. His right hand and arm were a piece of gracefulness in life, but a serious weapon in causing death. Thoughtful help was not good enough to save a Montana family. The connection between a brother's bond is like nothing else, but alcohol was powerful enough to break and tear that bond right out of the Big Sky.

Norman's father, John, tells him on page 104- “After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don't you make up a story and the people who go with it? Only then will you understand what happened and why. It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” From my concept of knowledge, Norman probably combined many people in his life into one or two characters in the book so that the readers had a better understanding. In my mind, I believe John is telling us a very important rule to live by. He's telling Norman this so that he will get his thoughts down about his brother's death and understand what happened. I believe that this is where Norman achieved the idea to relate life to water. John wants his boy to uncover that their religion has a connection to nature and that his brother was resurrected to bring life to a natural wonder, the Blackfoot River.

The life of the Big Blackfoot drifted farther and farther downstream and Paul couldn't keep up. His drinking and fighting slowed him down and fishing lost the war. Father and son watched as the brother caught his last fish and brought life back to Northern Montana for a brief window of time. Norman may have been with Paul throughout his life, but the deadly rapids pulled on the family until the brothers were separated from each other forever. They may have met again in the depths of time and life, but a tragic Montanan story changed two heartbeats into one.

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Cydnie LuvsYou <3 said...
Apr. 10, 2013 at 2:00 am
Thank you for such a great analysis it helped me out with my research analysis a lot.  I agree with what your opinions were and I feel you're a really great writer.                                                  ~Cyd :)
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