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"A River Runs Through It"

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Katie Stephens

on 27 January 2015

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Transcript of "A River Runs Through It"

Norman's Guilt
Throughout this entire story Norman was foreshadowing Paul's death. However after Paul dies we are left with more questions than answers,

"My brother had been beaten to death by the but of a revolver and his body dumped in an alley" (111).

This is the clearest statement Norman gives about his brother's death. He doesn't know who killed him or why. He doesn't have to know. The reader is left to imply that Norman blames himself, and that he continually described Paul as "beautiful" because of his guilt. Norman wants to show us his brother for how special he was--he doesn't want to show us his destructive faults. What should have been done was never achieved.
An autobiographical memoir that was made into a motion picture.
Major Characters:
Norman-----Narrator and Author
Paul---------Norman's younger brother
Mr. Maclean----Presbyterian Minister. Avid Fisherman. Father
Mrs. Maclean---Mother. Favorites Paul over Norman

Minor Characters:
Jessie---Norman's wife
Neal------Jessie's brother
Old Rawhide------regular at town bar
Throughout this story, family members are continuously trying to help. But what, to them, is classified as help? There is never a concrete answer or preferred outcome explicitly stated.
Basic Summary
*Norman and Paul were raised by a minister who was also an avid fisherman,
"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing..."
(1). Let's just say that this book has been written on the foundation of this statement.
A Major Theme: Helping Family
Throughout the book Norman is trying to help Paul, while Jessie is also trying to help Neal (her brother). The irony is that neither of them are successful:
"A River Runs Through It"

Katie Stephens
Period 1

By Norman Maclean
Mainly takes place on
the rivers of Missoula,
*Norman was on his way to becoming a professor in literature, and he had spent years working in the forest service during World War I.
*Paul was a skilled fly fisherman, a reporter, a gambler, and an alcoholic.
Norman considers his relationship with Paul to be flawed and touchy. He never feels close enough to help his brother, so he never truly approaches him, but instead reaches out to him the only way he knows how--through fishing......but we will get to that later.
Showing Relationship
"When you are in your teens--maybe throughout your life--being three years older than your brother often makes you feel he is a boy. However...He had those extra things besides fine training--genius, luck, and plenty of self confidence. Even at this age he liked to bet on himself against anybody who would fish with him, including me, his older brother...We had to be very careful in dealing with each other. I often thought of him as a boy, but I never could treat him that way. He was never '
my kid brother'
. He was a master of an art. He did not want any big brother help, and, in the end, I could not help him" (6).
"...our differences would not have seemed so great if we had not been such a close family" (7).
"I was tough by being product of tough establishments...Paul was tough by thinking he was tougher than any establishment" (8).
"'I am trying to help someone...someone in my family. Don't you understand?'
I said, 'I should understand.'
'I am not able to help,' she said.
'I should understand that, too', I said" (84).
"...why is it that people who want help do better without it--at least no worse...they take all the help they can get, and are just the same as they always have been" (84).
Even Norman's father admits their failure to help Paul, though most of the pressure was put on Norman through Paul's hardships:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.”
What our characters conclude on is fishing.
Why Fishing is Important
"My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things--trout as well as eternal salvation--come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy" (5).
Notice how the Minister himself compares fishing and nature to God as though they are of equal importance to him and the universe.
"...he was anxious to be on the hills where he could restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing..." (2).
Paul and Norman lived together fishing. Norman is attempting to reach out to his brother through a common interest and love they share with their father.
Power of Nature
“Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as 'our brother's keepers,' possessed of one of the oldest and possible one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting instincts. It will not let us go.”
"I sat there and forgot and forgot, until what remained was the river that went by and I who watched... Eventually the watcher joined the river, and there was only one of us. I believe it was the river."
Nature itself is a place of peace and healing for this family. Norman feels hopeless in the task of helping his brother through his drinking, gambling, and money problems, so he confides in his family's form of sanctuary.
An Ambiguous Ending
Norman leaves us wondering:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. 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.
I am haunted by waters” (113).
In this quote Norman is speaking as an old man who is the last living member of his family. His brother, mother, father, and wife have all passed with time. He is a successful college professor who is still drawn to the river he grew up with in Missoula, and he continues to feel the connection with the river's words. The waters bring memories of his brother and father. His shortcomings have haunted his conscience.

A message is left by Norman's hardships with his brother:
say something before it is too late, because time waits for no one. Our fates merge into one.
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