Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The fairy tale upon which this novel is based, “The Fisherman and His Wife,” is a story of the war between the sexes. In it, the wife is eventually done in by the flounder because of her incessant greed. The moral of the story is that women are essentially self-indulgent, dissatisfied beings who deserve no better status than what history has accorded them.

The Flounder sets out to reinterpret history through this same fairy tale, again using the flounder as its main metaphor. This time, however, instead of denouncing the greed of women, the Flounder decries the travesties—wars, starvation, and pollution—that men have brought upon the world. He is, in a sense, the conscience of humankind, ready to swing his magical powers in favor of the sex that can change the world.

It is little wonder that the Flounder takes this position, for throughout the novel, women nourish the world. Whenever food is mentioned—and it is mentioned often—it is the women who are cooking it and thereby providing their menfolk with sustenance. While the men talk about such things as religion, war, and plagues, the women do the practical chores of daily life—chores which keep those around them alive.

Symbols such as churches, castles, and political offices are always important to the men. These symbols, which determine ways of life, have often been associated with violence: early Christian crusades that brought wholesale slaughter to villages, Socialist riots that sparked vengeful shootings, and male festivities that inspired gang rapes. Yet, food, in its many guises, has always meant happiness and fulfillment. This basic symbol, always associated with the women, the providers, is the one symbol that has lasted throughout history, lasted longer than even the wars, the plagues, and the famines. If, as the Flounder would have it, women begin to rule the world, then this food, this sustenance, will replace democracy, capitalism, and socialism and become the symbol of a new dawn—not only for women but also for all humankind.