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The Fish

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

Man and the Natural World Theme

"The Fish" might be one of the most clear-cut examples of man vs. the natural world. The cool thing about this struggle, though, is that there is very little struggle at all. The speaker catches the fish (though the fish doesn't fight), then holds the fish out of the water for a bit (the fish is still not fighting), and ultimately lets him go. So while the scenario allows for the age-old man vs. wild battle, there is no real violence. The struggle happens within the speaker, and ultimately ends peacefully.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Based on what we know of the speaker from this poem, do you think this is her first fishing trip, or is this one of many? Why?
  2. Whose "victory" do you think it is in line 66? The fish is said to have those "medals" hanging from his jaw, but the speaker caught the fish. Can victory be attributed to either of them? Or both?
  3. Is there a lesson that either the speaker or the fish has learned from this battle? What is the result of this man vs. nature confrontation?
  4. In what ways is the fish like a human?  Which of its characteristics are extremely un-human?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The fish let the speaker catch him because he knew all along that the speaker would release him.

The speaker releases the fish because she sees it as too human to kill.

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