John Greenleaf Whittier

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How can the theme of bragging be incorporated in an essay on "The Fish I Didn't Catch"?

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The theme of bragging in "The Fish I Didn't Catch" can be incorporated into a persuasive essay by using quotes about bragging and the modesty the speaker has since learned. It can also be noted that Whittier was a Quaker, belonging to a group that emphasized humility and plainness.

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To incorporate bragging, the most important theme of the "The Fish I Didn't Catch," into your persuasive essay, you might want to first focus on pulling quotes about bragging from the Whittier piece. For instance, there is the moment when the speaker as a young boy sees that he has a pickerel on his fish line and cries out to his uncle:

"Uncle!" I cried, looking back in uncontrollable excitement, "I've got a fish!"

This is bragging, because he doesn't have the fish yet: it gets away from him. The speaker also comments on the life wisdom he learns from his uncle about bragging or boasting, when his uncle says to him,

Never brag of catching a fish until he is on dry ground. I've seen older folks doing that in more ways than one, and so making fools of themselves. It's no use to boast of anything until it's done, nor then either, for it speaks for itself.

The speaker reinforces the message a third time when he summarizes his uncle's words as a proverb:

Never brag of your fish before you catch him.

The essay also shows how the speaker has changed from the child he was: the piece is written by the older man looking back on his child self. We can see that the grown man has learned about humility, because he speaks of himself with humor. He describes being chased by snakes as a child; he describes the land his family homestead was on as once desirable but now "wet" ("I have not much reason for speaking well of these meadows"); and he is relentless in showing his own mistake in bragging too soon about the fish. He has little desire to boast about his life but wishes to show it as it really is. In fact, even the title of the essay suggests it is about a moment of failure—what the speaker "didn't" catch.

Finally, Whittier was a Quaker, a group that emphasizes modestly, plainness, and lack of pride. You could argue that this life lesson in humility was all the more important to him because it illustrates Quaker principles.

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