Big Fish, Little Fish Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The boy Zefferino is completely at home in the ocean, moving effortlessly through it and relishing the beautiful denizens that he hunts and destroys. Speargun in hand, he trails a bream underwater and discovers an enclosed pond. Here he finds not only beautiful fish but also Signorina de Magistris, a fat woman wearing a bathing suit, who sits weeping on a rock. Zefferino’s reactions are a mixture of sympathy and confusion: The sight of a woman crying saddens him, but he is unable to understand how the beautiful location, crammed with such a variety of beautiful fish, can fail to please her. Although she tells Zefferino that she weeps because she is unlucky in love, she knows Zefferino is too young to understand.

Zefferino first attempts to soothe his melancholy companion by inviting the woman to sample the pleasure of swimming underwater with his mask; when she proves incapable of enjoying this because of her tears, Zefferino switches tactics, hoping that the beautiful fish he catches will amuse her. He first catches a large silver and black bass and places it in a small, natural basin; but Signorina de Magistris is not pleased. Unhappy herself, she sees only the numerous tiny holes in its silver body made by sea lice.

With each new fish Zefferino hauls out of the sea, Signorina de Magistris detects the same indications of suffering and misery. What the inexperienced boy accepts as an inlet of unimaginable wonders, the heartbroken woman...

(The entire section is 439 words.)