Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 632 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A River Runs Through It Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Much of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It is autobiographical, based on his family experiences as he was raised in a parsonage in western Montana in the early part of the twentieth century. Maclean is the elder son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister. He and his brother, Paul, fish the wild Montana streams as often as possible. Much of the action in this story is set along the Big Blackfoot River. For the Macleans, fly fishing is religion. The Reverend Maclean taught his boys to cast a fly rod with the same discipline that he engendered in them concerning religious studies. The Reverend Maclean believed “man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace,” but he believed that “only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty. ”As far as the Macleans are concerned, fly fishing in the beauty of nature fulfills the call to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
The joyful art of fly fishing is clearly depicted in Maclean’s writing. He recounts competitive but friendly experiences with his brother. As the story progresses, however, it becomes clear that Maclean’s memory is troubled by a family tragedy. Something is wrong in paradise. Paul has difficulty controlling his drinking and gambling, and his stubborn refusal to be helped contributes to his demise. He also ignores certain hypocritical customs of his region. For example, he dates American Indians, which tends to put him at odds...
(The entire section is 833 words.)