Daniel Wallace

Big Fish

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Big Fish Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 49-page guide for “Big Fish” by Daniel Wallace includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 3 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Fatherhood and The Role of Storytelling.

Plot Summary

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, a novel by Daniel Wallace, presents the story of the life of Edward Bloom, as told and retold by his son, William. William recounts Edward’s life as Edward lays dying of an unnamed terminal illness. The truth of Edward’s past has always eluded William, as his father’s anecdotes tend toward the unbelievable, and he seems incapable of being serious. Using tall tales, dreams, and allusions to Greek mythology and classics, like The Odyssey, William reconstructs Edward’s life, and in doing so, explores themes of mortality, fatherhood, and storytelling.

The novel jumps between the present time, during which Edward lays dying of an unnamed, incurable illness, and the past, told through a series of fabulous anecdotes, presented in chronological order, beginning with Edward’s birth. As William remarks, everything Edward “did was without parallel” (16). William narrates all but one of these stories, as he’s heard his father tell them many times over the course of his life. Never passing judgement or expressing disbelief, he presents them just as Edward did: “rue story” (11).

In his own mythology, Edward is special from the beginning. His birth, during the “driest summer in forty years” (5) in the small town of Ashland, Alabama, brings with it a heavy rainstorm. When he’s nine-years-old, it snows for the first time ever in Alabama, and he and his father build a sixteen-feet-tall snowman. Edward can communicate with animals, gets along with all kinds of people (including a carnivorous giant), and has a preternatural gift for sensing danger. He saves the life of a young girl, several U.S. navy sailors, and his own son, twice.

Being in one place for too long depresses Edward, so, after marrying William’s mother, Sandra, he builds a successful business for himself as a traveling salesman. He travels the world over, making friends and having adventures along the way. No matter where he goes, he makes a big impression. For example, he gets stranded in a small town called Specter while out on business. He ends up falling in love with the town and eventually buying all of it, getting to know all the locals, and becoming a regular fixture on its streets. It is there that he meets Jenny Hill, a young woman with whom he falls deeply in love, despite being married to Sandra, William’s mother.

This constant motion and his “state of constant aspiration” (15) puts a strain on both his marriage and relationship with his son. Because he’s home so infrequently, and exhausted when he is there, he and Sandra consider a separation, but don’t go through with it. Though Edward cares about his son, William wishes that they had spent more time together, and that Edward could have been more open and honest with him. He never knew, for example, whether his father believed in God, nor his views on politics. Edward’s constant reliance on tall tales and inability to stop joking around frustrate William. In all but William’s final imagining of his father’s death, William expresses that he wishes he had known his father better. Over the course of telling his father’s story, though, William comes to terms with both who his father was as a man and his imminent death. By the novel’s end, William has become an epic storyteller in his own right, thus preserving his…

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Part I