The Fish Characters
by Elizabeth Bishop

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The Fish Characters

The Fish

The central character in "The Fish" is the eponymous fish itself, described by the speaker in the opening line as "a tremendous fish." The word "tremendous" at first seems to allude to the size of the fish. By the end of the poem, however, we might infer that the fish is also "tremendous" in other ways. The speaker says that the fish "hadn't fought at all," which implies that perhaps this is a weak, rather lifeless fish that the speaker has caught. However, the fish is then described in such a way as to perhaps elicit our sympathy. He is "infested / with tiny white sea-lice," and his gills inhale "the terrible oxygen," meaning of course that he is suffocating.

The speaker then describes the fish's lower lip, from which, "grim, wet, and weaponlike / hung five old pieces of fish-line." At this point in the poem, we may begin to realize how much suffering this fish has endured. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker says that the fish didn't seem to fight back. Perhaps, at this later point in the poem, we realize that he didn't fight back because he was so tired and so damaged by all the fights he has fought before. We start to think of the fish now as an old warrior, forced to fight one battle too many. He obviously used to be strong. Indeed, he has defeated the fishing line five times before.

The Speaker

The second main character in "The Fish" is the speaker. In the first half of the poem, the speaker doesn't reveal much about her thoughts or feelings. She merely observes the fish, and, because the poem is written in the first-person perspective, we observe it, too, through her eyes.

In the second half of the poem, however, we are given more direct access to the speaker's thoughts and feelings. She says that she "thought of the coarse white flesh, / packed in like feathers." The language in this quotation implies that the speaker is here beginning to pity the fish by way of metaphor. The word "flesh" perhaps reminds her, and us, that the fish is a living creature made up of flesh and bone, just like us. The simile comparing the flesh to "packed in . . . feathers" implies that that the fish's freedom (symbolized by the feathers, which connote flight and freedom) has been curtailed. It's "feathers" have been "packed in" close together,...

(The entire section is 610 words.)