Norman Mclean’s A River Runs Through It

This essay Norman Mclean’s A River Runs Through It has a total of 1357 words and 6 pages.

Norman Mclean ’s A River Runs Through It

Norman Mclean’s A River Runs Through It explores many feelings and

experiences of one “turn of the century” family in Missoula, Montana.

In both the movie, directed by Robert Redford, and the original work of

fiction we follow the Mcleans through their joys and sorrows. However,

the names of the characters and places are not purely coincidental.

These are the same people and places known by Norman Mclean as he was

growing up. In a sense, A River Runs Through It is Mclean’s

autobiography. Although these autobiographical influences are quite

evident throughout the course of the story they have deeper roots in the

later life of the author as he copes with his life’s hardships.

The characters in the movie and book are taken straight from Mclean’s

life. From the hard working, soft centered, minister father, to the

drunken, “down on his luck”, brother-in-law, Neil. The character of

Paul appears the be the most true to life member of Norman’s family.

The audience quickly becomes familiar with Paul and his quick-tempered,

always ready for anything attitude. This is evident in the beginning of

the story with Paul’s frequent phrase “...with a bet on the to make

things interesting (Mclean 6).” “It was almost funny and sometimes not

so funny to see a boy always wanting to bet on himself and almost sure

to win (Mclean 5).” Unlike Norman who was rigorously home schooled

every morning, while Paul seemed to escape this torment. The boys

would spend their afternoons frolicking in the woods and fishing the Big

Blackfoot River. The differences that developed between Paul’s and

Norman’s fishing styles become evident in the published versions of

Mclean’s life as well as his real life. Norman followed the traditional

style taught by their preacher-father, ten and two in a four -count

rhythm, like a metronome.

The four-count rhythm, of course, is functional. The one count takes

the line, leader, and fly off the water; the two count tosses them

seemingly straight into the sky; the three count was my father’s way of

saying that at the top the leader and fly have to be given a little beat

of time to get behind the line as it is starting forward; the four count

means put on the power and throw the line into the rod until you reach

ten o’clock-then check-cast, let the fly and leader get ahead of the

line, and coast to a soft and perfect landing (Mclean 4).

Paul, on the other hand, was less controlled by their father. Therefore

he was able to develop his own style of casting. This new technique in

which he dubbed “shadow casting” was able to draw the fish to the

surface using only the shadow of the fly. “...That the fish are alerted

by the shadows of flies passing over the water by the first casts, so

hit the fly the moment it touches the water (Mclean 21).” Among other

things, Paul was also grew up with a bit of gambling and drinking streak

in him. Paul’s habits did not just exist in the book, these

characteristics of Paul were carried over from Norman’s real life

experiences with his brother. “...Paul lived mostly by instinct and

bravado, learning early on to gamble, drink and fight (Eastman 54).”

Paul’s tendancies of to get into the high stakes poker games without a

clear head and then try to fight his way out of debt was what eventually

leads to his demise; both in real life and in A River Runs Through it.

Although the documentation of Norman Mclean’s life is very similar to

his real life, there are some subtle differences that exist. In the

wide screen version of A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert

Redford, the middle part of the movie is taken up with Norman’s courting

of Jessie, his real life wife. This is different from the book because

as the book progresses, Norman is already married to Jessie. One other

difference between the movie and the author’s real life is a small scene

in which the Mclean boys “borrow” a rowboat and run the rapids of a

nearby river. Although untold in the story these parts are part of the

creative license taken by Redford in order to make for a better movie.

These two segments appeal to both the adventurous and caring in the


Another difference between the documented versions of A River Runs

Through It and Mclean’s life is concerning where he lived. In the book

and movie versions,

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Related Topics

A River Runs Through It, Films, Paul MacLean, McLean, Norman

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