Trout Fishing in America

by Richard Brautigan

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

The narrator

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The narrator, who is unnamed though possibly identified with the author, because he is a writer and has had similar life experiences; that is, he had a fatherless, rather lonely childhood, living in poverty with his mother first in Great Falls, Montana, then later in Portland, Oregon, and Tacoma, Washington. In his late teens, he moves to San Francisco, which becomes the center of his life as a writer. A more spiritual element is provided by certain trout streams and lakes in the mountains to the north and east, such as Grider Creek, Graveyard Creek, Paradise Creek, Lake Josephus, and Hell-Diver Lake. The narrator tends to describe the people and settings in his brief collection of sketches with an inventive, sometimes even magical poetic surrealism. For example, the narrator recalls having seen, as a child, a distant, beautiful waterfall. As he draws closer to it, however, he sees that his vision was only a flight of white wooden stairs leading into some trees. Such disillusionment is an important element in the narrator’s worldview. He continually seeks escape from reality yet retains the integrity to be able to admit to doing so.

The narrator’s wife

The narrator’s wife, who is unnamed but usually referred to as “my woman” or “the woman I live with.” She corresponds to the author’s wife of this period (that is, his first wife), Virginia “Ginny” Adler. Little of the woman’s personality is revealed. Her role is simply to cook, have sexual intercourse, conceive and bear a child, and tend it as it grows. Once, the narrator and his wife have sexual intercourse in the warm water of Worsewick Hot Springs, in the midst of green slime and dead fish. This is a typical juxtaposition by the narrator of the beautiful and the profane (or of life and death).

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The narrator’s daughter

The narrator’s daughter, an unnamed child called only “the baby.” She corresponds to the author’s daughter, Ianthe, born in 1960. The child, as she grows older, affords a perception of the passage of time.

Trout Fishing in America

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Latest answer posted December 4, 2018, 12:31 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Trout Fishing in America, a personification that talks and writes but has no corporeal existence. The figure sometimes evokes the distant past, such as the time of the American Revolution, or the day that Meriwether Lewis discovered Great Falls. It acts on the whole as a positive or even romantic vision of America.

Trout Fishing in America Shorty

Trout Fishing in America Shorty, a legless wino in San Francisco who demands even of strangers that they push him everywhere in his wheelchair. Once, he falls face first, drunk, right out of his chair. The narrator and his acquaintances decide to mail him to Nelson Algren, in honor of the latter’s character “Railroad Shorty.” He disappears, however, before they can get around to doing this.

Statue of Benjamin Franklin

Statue of Benjamin Franklin, a statue in Washington Square, San Francisco. This statue is mentioned frequently throughout the book, beginning in the first chapter, in which it is the central figure. In addition, it is an important feature of the cover photograph. It is presented as a symbol of welcome. Beatniks and hippies sit before it and drink port wine.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 180

The unnamed narrator is the only significant character in this antinovel that mocks traditional approaches to characterization, and his character can only be guessed at by carefully judging his manner of narration. His passivity indicates that his purpose is to understand rather than to change. He treats the beautiful and the grotesque equally, and this sense of objective disengagement makes his vision of America convincing. Trout Fishing in America — a Protean phrase applied to people, a place, a hotel, a pen nib, a state of mind, and the book itself — becomes a kind of character in the book, a fragile evocation of the spirit of pastoral America that is whimsically embodied in various objects and people.

Other characters (the narrator's "woman," Pard, Mr. Norris, Art) are minimally drawn, usually appearing in only a single chapter. They are elements in a documentary collage that includes historical characters (Richard Nixon, Henry Miller, Ed Sullivan, Andrew Carnegie, Caryl Chessman, and "Pretty Boy" Floyd are examples) and artifacts of popular culture (bumper stickers, films, diaries, packing labels, tombstone inscriptions, recipes, and numerous warning signs).

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