A River Runs Through It Major Character Analysis

Norman MacLean

A River Runs Through It

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A River Runs Through It Major Character Analysis

Norman Maclean

Norman Maclean is the narrator and protagonist of this semi-autobiographical story, which is based on his own family and childhood and young adulthood in Montana. His close relationships with his parents, the Reverend and Mrs. Maclean, and his brother, Paul, are expressed through the family ethos of fly fishing and love for nature. The pristine Montana landscape, along with the fly fishing skills imparted to the brothers by their father, form the boys’ philosophy toward life. Fly fishing is a spiritual experience. Norman loves fishing, but his brother Paul is a master at it.

Taking after his father, Norman is a serious and thoughtful person. However, due to his Scottish heritage, growing up in Montana, and working for the U.S. Forest Service, he is no wimp. Instead, he and Paul are brought up to be self-sufficient and tough. While their father is a minister, both Norman and Paul follow their own paths in life.

Norman marries Jessie, who is also of Scottish heritage, and they live with her parents during the summer of 1937, when most of the story takes place. Jessie asks Norman for his help with her own brother, Neal, who is also an alcoholic. Though Norman doesn’t like her brother, he tries to help Neal out of love for Jessie and his mother-in-law, Florence. Even Paul tells Norman that he needs to help Neal. However, Norman feels that Paul is really talking about himself when he says this; unfortunately Norman is unsuccessful in helping Neal.

Norman feels responsible for his brother, as Paul sinks into alcoholism and accumulates gambling debts. Unable to figure out how to help him, even as Paul rejects the notion that he needs help, Norman is shattered, but not shocked, when Paul dies in a drunken brawl. Norman’s greatest regret is that he was unable to help his brother, but he didn’t know how to offer help that Paul would accept. Norman wonders what else he might have been able to do to help his brother, but the truth he discovers in the end is that no one can help someone who doesn’t want…

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