In Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It, the author recounts the story of his early life growing up in Montana. The narrative revolves around his family and the art of fly fishing. Through the novel, Maclean begins to understand the wisdom of his father, the fierce independence and downfall of his brother, and the divinity and beauty of nature. A similar theme regarding divinity in nature is found in Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Building his own cabin and supplying his own food, Thoreau spends two years living alone beside Walden Pond. Thoreau recognizes nature as the "highest reality"(265) and the intrinsic work of "the Builder of the universe"(348). Thoreau also provides insights into human life and expresses these in indirect metaphors with his natural surroundings. The narratives differ most in their changes in mood and plot progression. In Walden, Thoreau displays a change from beginning to end, expressing pessimism and depression at first and then happiness and fulfillment in the end. A River Runs Through It is largely opposite of this change. Thus, both authors relate similar themes and experiences while significant differences exist in the mood and progression.
One theme common to both narratives relates to how people are similar to bodies of water. Maclean illustrates this as he describes his brother Paul as being "tough"(8) and "very angry"(7) from his youth. Consequently, Paul's favorite river is the Big Blackfoot, which "is the most powerful and . . . runs straight and hard"(13). Maclean describes the river's "glacial origins"(14) and how it was formed overnight in "the biggest flood in the world"(14). Paul...
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... glories in the beauty of nature and expressed how infinite man's possibilities are. In contrast, Maclean provides a valuable and realistic lesson, as his brother's premature death and his family's sorrow are the final details of his story. Despite, the depressing ending, Maclean expresses his belief in the permanence of one's legacy as he hears the words of his family echoed in the river. Thoreau states, "Yes, we have done great deeds, and song divine songs, which shall never die"(349). Thus, both works display compelling themes of nature and men's lives while differing substantially in their plot progression and mood.
Maclean, Norman. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1976.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1862. Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau. Ed. Joseph Wood Krutch. New York: Bantam, 2001.
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