Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A mere four pages in length, “The Trout” has deeper meanings beyond the slight anecdote that appears on the surface. On one level, it may be read as a metaphor for the Irish of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, trapped in a small country too poor in resources to hold their burgeoning population. Seán O’Faoláin is a chronicler of Irish life and ways, and Ireland has historically been a resource-poor country with a high birth rate. The history of Ireland since the potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century has been marked by periods of massive emigration. During O’Faoláin’s lifetime, much of Ireland’s young, well-educated population left the rural areas for the cities and suburbs, or left the country for England, the Continent, or the United States—wherever they could find greater economic opportunities.

On a more spiritual level, “The Trout” can be read as a story of a young girl’s desire for mystery and her hope to continue seeing the world with wonderment, in conflict with her maturing realization that in the real world, doing nothing has its consequences. After Julia and Stephen return to the house to inform the grown-ups of their discovery of the trout, the adults begin searching for logical explanations of how it could have gotten there—such as being caught as a fingerling by a bird that then dropped it. Julia has no interest in such realistic explanations, but when her mother tries to spin a fairy tale incorporating a...

(The entire section is 402 words.)