Themes and Meanings
Much of the power of A River Runs Through It derives from its unusual perspective that the Protestant Christian beliefs of the Maclean family present no conflict with nature. Maclean describes a seamless unity between his family and the environment in which they live. There is no reference to human dominion over the earth, nor is there a threatening wilderness. The characters experience emotional confusion and pain as a result of human interaction. The natural world in Montana is a sacred place, making Neal and Old Rawhide’s behavior especially mortifying. Montana’s ruggedness requires the chosen people, Maclean and his family, to be tough but moral in their own way.
When fishing, the brothers enter a “world apart,” one in which there are further worlds to experience. On one trip, Maclean explains how he is able to forget the tumult in his life, item by item, until he achieves oneness with the river. To further animate this theme, methods of fishing, the equipment used, and actual fishing activities are described in detail throughout the novel. Casting is always done in four-part rhythm, the trajectory beginning between two and ten o’clock. Instead of a fishing “pole,” fly fishing is done with a “rod” made of split bamboo with silk thread wrappings. In a scene where Paul’s artistry in shadow casting merges him with the supernatural world, the water creates a halo around him. Such detailed accounts of fishing, written with...
(The entire section is 462 words.)