Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions

by Daniel Wallace
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Keeping in mind the title Big Fish, what is the significance of the many references to water throughout the novel? Consider the opening chapter “The Day He Was Born,” as well as “The Girl in the River” and “In Which He Goes Fishing.” What elements of symbolism or foreshadowing do you see at work?

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The stories presented in the book Big Fish are all progressively taller tales told by a notorious stretcher of the truth, Edward Bloom. His life is full of exciting adventures and crazy stories, from visiting a town that never ages or changes to catching his wife like a fish, and...

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The stories presented in the book Big Fish are all progressively taller tales told by a notorious stretcher of the truth, Edward Bloom. His life is full of exciting adventures and crazy stories, from visiting a town that never ages or changes to catching his wife like a fish, and even to enjoying the company of a giant.

Bloom's life seems centered around water. The title echoes two specific themes—the "big fish" tale of fishing, where a fisherman will progressively increase the size of the fish they caught when telling stories (which is exactly how Bloom operates) and the quote "a big fish in a little pond," exemplifying the extent to which Bloom feels he is out of place and destined for bigger things.

Both of these ideas relate to water—as do many of the stories in the book. He feels that he is trapped at times, stuck in a restrictive place that keeps him from growing (at one point he examines the science that says a goldfish will only grow as large as its container will let it). To combat this, he begins to flow like a river—living as a traveling salesman and finding it difficult to settle down and lead a domestic life. Water is a perfect analogy for Edward's lifestyle and his views.

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The water is extremely important for Edward, the main character in the novel. The title of the novel references the common phrase "big fish in a little pond," which represents the idea that one is larger or more important than their surroundings. For Edward, he feels this sentiment throughout the entire novel. He is always restless and feeling like he was meant for grander things.

His life is fluid and constantly shifting. For instance, he works as a traveling salesman for a great deal of his life, selling all kinds of knick knacks and trinkets, and he is always itinerant. This traveling lifestyle is contrasted against the town that never ages and supported by the rivers that he visits and fishes in. He is always on the move and never settled.

He even relates the story of "catching" his wife to catching a fish. He connects the two and recognizes that his wife is just as restless and itinerant as he, even though he was the only one with the freedom to drift throughout the world. Edward is, as the saying goes, "a fish out of water." He is constantly reminded of how different he is from those around him and feels uncomfortable in a normal life. He is always destined for greatness in his own eyes.

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Edward, the main character in the novel Big Fish, makes constant references to water through the story. Several times, he even implies that he, himself, may be aquatic, and that he caught his wife like a fish—both of which are extreme exaggerations of the events that happened in his life.

Edward is the ultimate teller of tall tales. He likes to aggrandize the events of his life and other details to make himself feel important and to improve his reputation. One of the many things that he repeats throughout the book is that he was a "big fish in a little pond." This colloquialism refers to being more important or skilled than those around you, and needing to be freed from them in order to achieve what you were meant to accomplish.

It seems Edward's relationship with water is related to this idea. He feels like he is dissimilar to those around him—that he has greater things to achieve and is more important than the other people in his life. Much in the way someone says that an individual is "a fish out of water," Edward Bloom is not where he belongs, because he constantly feels he could be accomplishing more in a different setting or situation. This leads him to a vagrant and ironically fluid lifestyle—traveling as a salesman, finding it difficult to settle down, and pursuing many different spirited passions on a whim.

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Water is an important motif that threads throughout the narrative of Big Fish by Daniel Wallace. For Edward Bloom, his preoccupation with water seems to stem from several of his beliefs about water and, more importantly, what water symbolizes to him. Edward makes reference to the old idiom “big fish in a small pond” numerous times throughout the novel. He sees himself as something bigger than the circumstances and small town he was born into. For Edward, water serves as a symbol for the immensity and the fluidity of the world he lives. Water is ultimately a symbol of grand adventure and freedom for Edward.

In the end of the novel, as Edward is dying, he returns to the water in his bathtub, trying to recapture that feeling of being a fish⁠—free and unafraid. The bathtub is a symbol for how he has returned to the small pond and how age and disease has withered him. This is important because the major theme of the novel is Edward’s relationship with his son, Will. In the end, Will tells his father that when he dies, he will be a fish returning to the vast sea from the river. Water is our life in Big Fish.

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