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The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop: Gone Fishin’ “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop is saturated with vivid imagery andabundant description, which help the reader visualize the action. Bishop’s useof imagery, narration, and tone allow the reader to visualize the fish andcreate a bond with him, a bond in which the reader has a great deal ofadmiration for the fish’s plight. The mental pictures created are, in fact, sobrilliant that the reader believes incident actually happened to a real person,thus building respect from the reader to the fish. Initially the reader is bombarded with an intense image of the fish; heis “tremendous,” “battered,” “venerable,” and “homely.” The reader issympathetic with the fish’s situation, and can relate because everyone has beenfishing. Next, Bishop compares the fish to familiar household objects: “here andthere / his brown skin hung in strips / like ancient wallpaper, / and itspattern of darker brown / was like wallpaper;” she uses two similes with commonobjects to create sympathy for the captive. Bishop then goes on to clearlyillustrate what she means by “wallpaper”: “shapes like full-blown roses /stained and lost through age.” She uses another simile here paired withdescriptive phrases, and these effectively depict a personal image of the fish.She uses the familiar “wallpaper” comparison because it is something thereaders can relate to their own lives. Also the “ancient wallpaper” analogy canrefer to the fish’s age. Although faded and aged he withstood the test of time,like the wallp aper. Bishop uses highly descriptive words like “speckled” and”infested” to create an even clearer mental picture. The word “terrible” isused to describe oxygen, and this is ironic because oxygen is usually beneficial,but in the case of the fish it is detrimental. The use of “terrible” allowsthe reader to visualize the fish gasping for breaths and fighting against the”terrible oxygen,” permitting us to see the fish’s predicament on his level.The word frightening does essentially the same thing in the next phrase, “thefrightening gills.” It creates a negative image of something (gills) usuallyconsidered favorable, producing an intense visual with minimal words. Anothersimile is used to help the reader picture the fish’s struggle: “coarse whiteflesh packed in like feathers.” This wording intensifies the reader’s initialview of the fish, and creates a visual, again, on the reader’s level.Bishop next relates to the fish on a personal basis: “I looked into hiseyes? ?I admired his sullen face, the mechanism of his jaw.” Through thisintense diction, a tone of respect is produced. It is as if, for a moment, thepoet descended to the fish’s level, and the reader then has more respect for thefish’s situation and the narrator’s position regarding the fish. She describedthe fish’s stare “like the tipping of an object towards the light;” this veryastute observation shows the reader that the poet is thinking deeply about thefish, and there is a connection made on the part of the poet. The lip “if youcould call it a lip” is the next part observed. It is described as “grim,”"wet,” and “weapon-like,” giving the reader, through personification, a “fishy”view of the creature as he actually exists. As she explains the hooks and linescaught in his lip, the reader learns that his lip has grown around the hooks,thus becoming part of the fish. These appendages hang “like medals with theirribbons frayed and wavering,” creating the image of a hero winning manycompetitions or battles. This simile creates another level of respect for thefish on the part of the narrator, and following the simile is a metaphor whichemphasizes the narrator’s ensuing admiration for the fish. The fish is nowconsidered “wise” with his “five-haired beard of wisdom trailing behind hisaching jaw;” and he is now on a higher plateau of respect.The narrator then compares this little fish’s greatness with her boat.This “rented boat” “leaking oil” from its “rusted engine” created a rainbow sobeautiful that she became overwhelmed and released the fish. The boat startedout imperfect, but so overwhelmed the poet, that she released the fish. Here,the boat can be compared to the fish, in it’s initial imperfection, then to itsfinal magnificence. The descriptive words allow the reader to, again, visualizethe moment vividly through the eyes of the narrator.Bishop does an outstanding job in describing every moment in hergrowing relationship with the fish. She creates, first, an image of a helplesscaptive and the reader is allowed to feel sorry for the fish and even pity hissituation. The narrator’s relationship with the fish then grows to one ofpersonal regard as she looks into his eyes and describes his stare. Because thereader is following the story with the poet, the reader’s relationship to thefish evolves as Bishop’s does. Next, a level of admiration is reached, whenBishop notices his five hooked jaw; she realizes his situation of capture andimprisonment and releases him as he’d gotten away five times before. Thereader’s admiration also reaches this level of respect, in that the fish hadbeen caught five times previously and still managed to be alive. The fish’s”badges of courage,” described by Bishop, allowed the reader to grow and createa bond with the fish and understand his life. The imagery and description werethe vital tools in implanting this growing admiration for something as trivialas a fish.


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