Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As she does in her novel/story cycle The Golden Apple (1949), Eudora Welty uses ideas and images from William Butler Yeats’s “The Song of Wandering Aengus” in “The Wide Net.” Aengus is a fisherman who went fishing with a hazel wand as a pole and caught a silver trout that was later transformed into a glimmering girl. The girl called his name and ran, “and faded through the brightening air.” He has spent his life trying to find her again, dreaming of a union with her in some paradise where, until the end of time, he will pluck “The silver apples of the moon,/The golden apples of the sun.” The minor coincidences of images suggest a connection with the poem. The two works share the theme of a man trying to fathom and thus achieve an ideal union with a woman. This ideal union is unattainable in this world, but the fascination of the mystery of the human soul, which cannot be captured in words and which seems to separate lovers, also draws the lovers together in an endless pursuit that gives depth and richness of meaning to life.

Ruth Vande Kieft, in an essay on Welty, describes this theme as central to much of Welty’s fiction: “Welty shows how the most public things in life, love and death, are also the most mysterious and private, and must be kept so. Though privacy requires the risk of isolation and loneliness, it is a risk worth taking in order to achieve the proper balance between love and separateness.” William Wallace and Hazel are attempting intuitively to achieve such a proper balance. The ritual of the wide net seems central to William Wallace’s success, Just as it is the ritual itself rather than its products that William Wallace and his friends value, so it is the process of interaction in tension with Hazel, rather than achieving control over her, which makes their marriage rich and golden.