A River Runs Through It compresses the events of several summers into one, the summer Norman Maclean’s brother Paul dies. In establishing background, Maclean explains the importance of fly fishing as the main activity through which the males of the family related to one another. Fishing also provided spiritual education. By describing their fishing trips and related events during the summer of 1937, a much older Maclean seeks to understand the tragedy of his brother’s death, to pay homage to him, and to show appreciation for his father’s love and wisdom.
A River Runs Through It is written in first-person limited narration. Maclean the narrator is the protagonist, his character derived from the author’s memories and reflections. He tells the story chronologically, often referring to characters in terms of their familial roles, as “my father,” “my brother,” “my mother-in-law.” In addition to the three male Maclean characters, there are two female Macleans: the mother, wife of the minister, and Jessie, Maclean’s wife. Jessie’s family provides two other significant characters, her brother, Neal, and her mother, Florence.
The story reads as if it were a highly stylized personal essay. As an introduction to the family members and their culture, Maclean begins, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” Even though these are minister’s children, they receive nearly equal instruction in spiritual concerns and in fly fishing. Paul’s fishing ability...
(The entire section is 632 words.)