What are the "sercet, hidden tuggings in the night" that the narrator mentions in the last sentence of W. D. Wetherell's "The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant"? What mistake has he never repeated?
W. D. Wetherell’s short his short story sets up an inner conflict. The narrator is a boy who loves fishing and is infatuated with the neighbor girl, Sheila, who’s several years older and out of his league. He convinces her to go to a dance with her, and he takes her in his canoe since he can’t drive yet. On the way she says she thinks fishing is “definitely dumb,” moments later the boy’s neglected fishing line hooks the biggest bass he’s ever felt. Torn between catching the fish and impressing the girl, he cuts the fishing line. That doesn’t help; at the end of the evening, the snobby girl takes off with another boy in his Corvette, leaving the narrator to go home alone.
The story ends with this passage:
"Poor Sheila! Before the month was over, the spell she cast over me was gone, but the memory of that lost bass haunted me all summer and haunts me still. There would be other Sheila Mants in my life, other fish, and though I came close once or twice, it was these secret, hidden tuggings in the night that claimed me, and I never made the same mistake again."
The “tuggings” the narrator feels in the plot itself come from the fish, which represents his true passion. But because he wants to look good to a girl who despises fishing, he ignores this real pull. He fails to be himself, to do what he loves, and finds that doing so neither fulfills him nor impresses Sheila.
Those “tuggings” of the bass on the fishing line become a metaphor for anything he loves, the activities he enjoys. He tells us that, after that mistake, he never again failed to be true to himself even when he feared what others might think.
It’s ironic that he exclaims, “Poor Sheila!” The reader feels badly for him, not for the stuck-up girl who ditches him. Yet looking back, the narrator realizes that she did not keep his attention, that her shallowness was her own punishment, whereas he has apparently taken joy in many other aspects of life.