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The Fish
The Fish
by Elizabeth Bishop
  • Symbolism, Imagery, Wordplay
  • The Fish
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The Fish

Symbol Analysis

1. Expectation vs. Outcome

We can assume the speaker wanted to catch a fish – otherwise, why would she be fishing. But when she finally did catch a fish, was it as fulfilling as expected? Or was it different? It seems from the long deliberation and consideration of the fish (dangling beside the boat for goodness knows how long) that the speaker feels a little conflicted about catching the fish. So there is a difference between how the speaker thought she would feel and react, and how it actually went down.

  • Lines 5-6: You'd expect a big daddy fish like this one to fight hard, right? The fish's lack of resistance is the first sign that this wasn't what the speaker expected.
  • Line 34: Hmm, if you're going to gut and fillet a fish for dinner, eye contact might make things a little awkward. Something about the fish (probably that he's so old and "venerable" seeming) has caught the curiosity of the speaker, and this fish/fisher encounter is getting less and less predictable.
  • Line 51: It seems like the speaker expected to see such a strange thing. The fish literally has fishing tackle imbedded in him. This has got to make the speaker give pause.

2. Respect

It seems the speaker comes to respect this fish so much that she lets him go in the end. Let's see how her respect for the fish grows.

  • Line 8: Right at the beginning, the speaker can tell that the fish is worthy of respect.
  • Line 45: The speaker "admire(s)" the fish. So at first it seemed the speaker was just curious about the fish, now it's clear she admires him.
  • Lines 61-63: "Medals," "wisdom" – if these words don't make you think of respect, then we don't know what will. It sounds like the speaker is talking about a decorated war hero, not just some old fish.