Analysis of the Fish, Elizabeth Bishop

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The Fish, Elizabeth Olsen

Finding Mortality

In Elizabeth Olsen’s work titled The Fish, a seemingly ordinary fishing experience reveals much more than expected. In the sea on a rented old boat, what was found was not what was intentionally searched for. In looking for sustenance or to fill an internal void with confidence, the speaker finds themself humbled in a moment of catharsis by the understanding of mortality and the possibilities within it. When first engaging with a caught fish, the speaker describes the fish as having a “grunting weight, / battered and venerable” (8). This description depicts a specific tone of respect for the longevity of the fish along with the metaphorical weight the fish holds on the speaker’s reality. While the description soon hints at a repulsive nature mentioning barnacles, and infestations of sea-lice, these too aid in the start of a description of a respect directly related to endurance. Hints of a deeper meaning become clearer as the speaker describes the trials of mortality using the fish’s struggle in breathing the “terrible oxygen” (23). The bloody gills breathing in this almost torturous substance of life ironically represent the dangers and suffered pains of existence. The true inward understanding begins as the speaker gazes into the large eyes of the fish. While one would mostly think of gazing into another’s eyes as a humanizing connection, this pushes the reader to understand the gap between human and animal, as the eyes “shifted a little but not/ to return my stare” (41-42). While clearly defining the boundary, this depiction shows the speakers admiration in something other than themself as they notice the fish clinging to life, admiring its sullen face. Soon captivated by the five snapped lines attached to the fish’s lip by hooks, the speaker describes them as “medals with their ribbons” clearly defining an admiration of the will to survive coming closer to looking inward to see what mirrors this in the...
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