Big Fish: Book Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Big Fish Plot Set Up
  • 1:16 Big Fish Plot Summary…
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

'Big Fish' by Daniel Wallace is the story of a a son, William, and his father, Edward. We'll take a look at the novel's plot summary while analyzing it, in which Edward is dying and William struggles to understand the man whom he loves before he passes.

Big Fish Plot Set Up

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, a 1998 novel written by Daniel Wallace, is set up as William learns his father, Edward, is dying of cancer. On his trip to see him, he recounts how he's going to talk to his dad and root out the truth of his past. He realizes that he needs to go spend time with him because he never really got to know his father. Although Edward loved and cared for his son, he never told him much about himself; instead, he was a joker and tended to answer questions enigmatically. Additionally, since his father was rarely home due to his import/export business, William just never had a chance to really get to know him, which ended up causing serious conflict between the two.

So since his father never gave him much to go on, as William is traveling to see his father, he starts to tell tall tales of how he saw his father's life, creating them from things his father said and from William's own imagination. The heartache he's going through in losing a dad he doesn't think he knows is driving him to create a past that is false just to find a way to relate. These different snippets of his father's life are what William calls death takes. In them he describes how his father was a good man who dealt with magical things in his life.

Big Fish Plot Summary & Analysis

Edward originally lived in Ashland, Alabama. He knew everyone by name, because his memory was so good. During his time in Ashland he helped a water sprite that lived in a river; the sprite renamed the river after Edward because of his assistance. She named it 'Edward's Grove.' He also helps a giant learn how to farm but then decides to leave Ashland to go to college. In doing so, he has to pass by a large dog that stops people from leaving the town. This part of the story shows that Edward was important in his small town, at least in his own eyes, but he decides he is meant for more. Although it is hard to leave, and many don't, he manages to escape the clutches of small town life. He sets off and finds Auburn along his journey.

In Auburn, Edward meets his future wife, Sandra. He boards with an old woman who was a witch, with an all-seeing eye. Much like Homer's Odyssey, we see Edward learn the truth of his death in the eye of the old lady, which he rescues from a bad group of men led by his nemesis, Don Price. Don Price, Sandra's boyfriend, gives him trouble over retrieving the eye and because of his pursuit of Sandra. However, Edward fights Don and wins, winning Sandra's heart and hand in marriage.

William's thoughts on his parent's marriage never appear to be tainted. Although he has conflict with his father, his parent's love seems unchangeable in his eyes.

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