Sheila Mant is a seventeen-year-old girl who the narrator desperately wants to impress. They don't seem to have anything in common, though. In fact, they share starkly opposing personality traits.
While Sheila is indolent and pleasure-seeking, the narrator is full of energy and vigor. We see how sluggishly she spends her days, sunbathing without much activity. Even when she is in the field playing baseball, she is lacking in zest and absolutely unwilling to actively participate in the game. When the narrator asks her to move closer, she replies:
“I’m playing outfield . . . I don’t like the responsibility of having a base.”
And, when the ball is hit over the left-fielder’s head, she simply stands and watches it “disappear toward the river.”
This shows she’s not just lazy but also irresponsible and lax. She is one of those people who would revel in their team’s victory but wouldn’t put any effort into making it win the game. So, she is a person who can’t be banked on.
While she lazes on a float, the narrator performs swimming feats requiring a lot of physical strain and skill. This tells us that he’s a brilliant swimmer. He must have practiced really hard to accomplish those feats. He says,
"to win her attention [I] would do endless laps between my house and the Vermont shore, hoping she would notice the beauty of my flutter kick, the power of my crawl."
We see how meticulously and painstakingly he prepares his canoe for his date with Sheila. He says,
I spent all of the following day polishing it. I turned it upside down on our lawn and rubbed every inch with Brillo, hosing off the dirt, wiping it with chamois until it gleamed as bright as aluminum ever gleamed.
Whatever he does, he does with great zeal and meticulousness. This is a remarkable trait of the narrator.
We learn much more about their personality traits when they are out on a date on the narrator’s boat. We find out that Sheila is excessively self-obsessed. The few remarks she makes during the trip are mostly about herself.
She is simply bothered about the complexion of her skin, her hairstyle, and her figure. She tells him how people compliment her on her good looks. She says she looks forward to becoming a model.
We are appalled at her callousness when she doesn’t pick up the extra paddle while the young narrator is rowing the boat upstream.
There was an extra paddle in the bow, but Sheila made no move to pick it up.
She took her shoes off and dangled her feet over the side.
Besides, she is extremely conceited and strongly opinionated. Fishing is one of the favorite activities of the narrator. But, quite brazenly, she expresses her contempt for fishing.
“I think fishing’s dumb,” she said, making a face. “I mean, it’s boring and all. Definitely dumb.”
This demonstrates how presumptuous and unfeeling she is.
Her most despicable trait, perhaps, is her indifference to how others feel. She doesn’t care in the slightest what interest the narrator. She is completely apathetic towards his feelings, emotions, and interests.
We almost hate her for her insensitivity when she goes over to the narrator only to inform him that “she would be going home in Eric Caswell’s Corvette” and not with him.
The narrator, on the other hand, is full of emotions and excitement. The date on his boat with Sheila means a lot to him. He’s meticulous in his preparation for the date and does all he can in order to avoid giving her a bad impression.
Despite his fondness for fishing, he will no more take up the subject with Sheila after knowing how she hates it. It amuses us to see how hard he tries to keep the fishing rod out of her sight. Unlike Sheila, he is very responsive and observant.
During the sail, when he learns that he has happened to hook the biggest bass of his life, he is faced with a dilemma. He has to choose between the huge bass and the beautiful Sheila. He will eventually sacrifice his biggest catch ever, but not so easily.
We are really impressed by how skillfully he paddles through “a sluggish stream that came into the river beneath a covered bridge,” and “a shallow sandbar at the mouth of this stream—weeds on one side, rocks on the other.” He takes all this trouble so that he doesn’t lose the biggest catch of his life.
Besides exhibiting his impressive boatmanship, the incident shows how determined and optimistic he is. He’s not going to give in so fast.
One of the narrator’s more admirable personality traits is his ability to learn from experience. After the incident, it doesn’t take him long to get over his infatuation with Sheila. He says,
Before the month was over, the spell she cast over me was gone . . .
It isn’t the failure to win over Sheila’s heart but the loss of his biggest catch that continues to haunt him. He says,
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.
Thus, we see that the narrator develops into a more mature person because of his experience.