The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant

by W. D. Wetherell

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What is a theme statement for "The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant"?

Quick answer:

A theme statement for "The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant" would need to reflect the themes of growing up, regret, and romance. It could also examine the importance of good decision-making skills.

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The best place to start when figuring out a theme statement for any story is to establish what the crux of the story is. This short bildungsroman seems to focus on regret and the importance of good decision-making. It is about a young man who takes a woman out for a date on a fishing boat. She is displeased with his choice of location and is unimpressed when he catches a huge bass. The narrator must then choose whether to reel the bass in and have a great fishing story or release it and have a chance with a pretty girl. The themes in this short story include fishing, coming of age, romance, and priorities.

With the advantages of hindsight, the narrator realizes that the memory of catching a huge bass—and the associated story that he would have had to tell—would have been far more significant than his memory of pleasing a girl who means nothing to him in the long run. This realization of regret needs to be reflected in your theme statement.

While his interest in Sheila was short-lived, his interest in fishing would prove far more long-lasting, and he soon comes to understand that the “big catch” of the day would have been that bass rather than Sheila. Your theme statement could therefore refer to the wisdom that comes with life experience.

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A good place to start when writing a theme statement is to figure out what the theme of a text is: what is it about? What is its main subject? From there, we can try to assess what the text is saying about that subject. Wetherell's short story seems to take young love, growing up, and making mistakes as a result of one's youthfulness as its primary subject.

In the end, the main character realizes that he missed out on an amazing bass (and a heck of a story) all for a girl he no longer thinks of even a month after his "date" with her. He realizes that he would have those feelings, like those he had for Sheila, again, but his consciousness of the loss of the basso—the way he turned away from his own interests to please someone else—haunts him for his entire life.

He seems to learn that other people will always come and go in one's life, and so it is vital that one remain true to oneself and one's own priorities no matter what anyone else says or thinks. He also learns that some mistakes stay with us forever.

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A statement of theme arises from the heart of the meaning of the story. In this Wetherell story, the heart of the meaning of the story is regret. The narrator regrets all his life losing that bass because he was trying to land the bigger fish--he thought--of Sheila Mant. A statement of theme reflecting this concept might be written this way: The wisdom and passion of youth confuses things of passing importance with things of enduring importance, leading the way to lifelong regret.

The narrator had the small fish in the boat--with her lazy stretches "toward the sky" and her figure like a model--but had mistaken her for the big fish, while taking a "penknife" to release what turned out to be his life's enduring big fish. He lost interest in Sheila's spell "before the month was over," but all his life, it was the bass's "secret, hidden tuggings in the night that claimed" him.

Sheila, on the other hand, said "she would be going home in Eric Caswell’s Corvette" without him, "funny kid" that he was. Because his youthful passions and (limited) wisdom confused the enduringly important with the passingly important, regret tugs at him in his secret thoughts in the night all his life long.

I could feel the strain of the bass, steadier now, growing weaker, and this was another tug on my heart, not just the bass but the beat of the river and the slant of the stars and the smell of the night, ... I pulled a penknife from my pocket and cut the line in half. ... I never made the same mistake again.

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I like the theme statements for "The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant" offered in the first post. I would add something that addresses the idea that we sometimes get ourselves into trouble when we judge others by appearance. We see this happen when the first-person narrator becomes infatuated with Sheila Mant. This infatuation is caused by Sheila's beauty, not by any personal qualities that the narrator admires.

When they shove off in his canoe on their date, Sheila reveals her superficiality with her rambling self-absorbed conversation that focuses on her looks and a college guy named Eric Caswell. The narrator, meanwhile, can't resist fishing on the sly and drops a line into the water.

The narrator then hooks and loses a tantalizingly large fish. He learns that his desire for Sheila didn't really amount to much compared to his true loves—nature and fishing. The story's final line reveals the power of the lesson he learned from placing the inconsequential Sheila on a pedestal: “I never made that mistake again.”

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W. D. Wetherell's short story deals with some pretty basic themes: choices, being true to oneself, young love/infatuation. Here are some theme statements that might work:

  • Giving up one's own identity or passions will not impress others.
  • When we care more about others' opinions than our own passions, we lose part of ourselves and fail to share it with others.
  • We learn our own priorities by making mistakes (and thinking about them).

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