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The Fish

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

Color

Symbol Analysis

While color seems like a logical byproduct of Bishop's intensity with detail, there's too much here not to suspect something more significant is going on. The steady progression of colors ultimately leads to the exclamation, "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!" in the end. So what does it signify? Maybe epiphany – a moment of sudden realization and insight. If you think about it, the speaker was being pretty contemplative throughout the poem, until the end when there seems to be a celebration. Or similarly, the colors might symbolize victory as line 66 suggests.

  • Line 12: This is the first time we see the fish being described with color – brown, if you think about it, is actually pretty bland. Pay attention to the progression. The colors will get more vibrant.
  • Lines 19 & 27: In these lines we get the color white, to refer to sea lice (ew) and the fish's meat.
  • Line 30: The "reds and blacks" are certainly more dramatic than brown or white. We're getting somewhere
  • Line 32: Pink. OK, that's no boring color.
  • Line 36: Yellow. As bright and vibrant as it gets if you ask us. The color of the sun!
  • Line 56: Green – offering us a color from the other side of the color wheel. The spectrum grows…
  • Line 71: Orange. This is a pretty good representation of the rainbow so far. At this point we can feel the energy of the poem building.
  • Line 75: The rainbow! The rainbow comes after the build-up of all of the colors, which coincides with the action in the poem. What we mean is, while the speaker is considering what do about the fish, and begins to gain more respect and understanding for him, the colors start to accumulate. The epiphany, or Aha! moment comes with the appearance of the rainbow, which immediately precedes letting the fish go. In other words, the full spectrum of colors – a.k.a. the rainbow – symbolizes the speaker putting all the pieces together in order to make the decision to release the fish.

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