A River Runs Through It Themes

Norman MacLean

A River Runs Through It

  • 25-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features an extended summary and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an experienced high school teacher with a PhD in English Literature
Access Full Summary

A River Runs Through It Themes

Oneness with Nature

For Norman Maclean, peace is found in nature, and the natural world represents a haven from the threats posed by human frailty and evil. In the Maclean family, there is no strict separation between religion and nature. Nature is an expression of perfection and the oneness of all creation.

In many scenes, Norman explains how he loses his worries and troubles while fishing and finds peace. He becomes one with nature. Norman seems to enjoy the peace he finds sitting on the bank after he finishes fishing, or talking with his father or brother on the riverbank, nearly as much as he enjoys the act of fishing itself.

Norman is not the only Maclean to experience this peaceful union with nature: his father brings a book to read while he is waiting for his sons to finish fishing on their last fishing trip together. Of this book, the Bible, Rev. Maclean says, “‘In the part I was reading it says the Word was in the beginning, and that’s right. I used to think water was first, but if you listen carefully you will hear what the words are underneath the water’” (95). According to Rev. Maclean, all of creation is united with the water, and the river symbolizes the natural world.

The whole experience of fishing, for Norman, is one of connection with self, and through nature, with others. The end of the novel reinforces this theme: Norman rejoins those he has lost through connecting with them during fly fishing; he hears their words underneath the water.

Are We Our Brother’s Keepers?

Both Jessie and Norman have troubled brothers in their families. Paul, an inveterate drinker and gambler, and Neal, an alcoholic, are deeply loved, but not understood, by their loved ones.

For example, Norman comments that his mother favors Paul and loves him more, even though she understands him less. In Jessie’s family, Florence is over-protective of Neal; at times protecting him the consequences of his actions, as when she blames Norman and Paul for abandoning Neal on the family picnic. In addition, Jessie, along with Paul and Old Rawhide, believe that…

This is just a preview. The entire section has 558 words. Click below to download the full study guide for A River Runs Through It.