A River Runs Through It Important Quotes

Norman MacLean

A River Runs Through It

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A River Runs Through It Important Quotes

1. “In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” (p. 1)

Norman begins this novel with a statement that establishes its central theme: fly fishing is a spiritual experience. Religion and nature are one, or rather, spirituality and nature are one. Though Presbyterians, the religion the Maclean family actually espouses is one of harmony with nature and they strive to appreciate and live up to the beauty that surrounds them.

2. “He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.” (p. 1)

Norman explains, in humorous terms, the conflation of his childhood belief that Jesus’ disciples were fly fishermen, like the Maclean men. This idea that they have holy precedent on their side lies at the root of the Maclean belief system that fishing is spiritual. For Norman and Paul’s father, there is no division between God and the natural world, and that is what he teaches his boys.

3. “As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. Somehow, I early developed the notion that he had done this by falling from a tree.” (p. 2)

Norman again displays humor in his childhood explanation of the spiritual beliefs that inform his life. As with many humorous anecdotes in the novel, there is a darker dimension to this story: Paul does live out his father’s belief that man is a mess. Maclean constantly foreshadows the troubles still to come.

4. “Well, until man is redeemed he will always take a fly rod too far back, just as natural man always overswings with an ax or golf club and loses all his power somewhere in the air; only with a rod it’s worse, because the fly often comes so far back it gets caught behind in a bush or rock.” (p. 3)

Norman explains the grace that fly fishing brings,…

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