‘The narrator’s quest for Trout Fishing in America is a series of disappointments’ (Tony Tanner). How important do you feel disappointment, loss and death are in Trout Fishing in America?
The importance of disappointment, loss and death in Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America can’t be ignored or overlooked as it is a constant and recurring theme throughout the novel. However, the way in which Brautigan conveys this reoccurring theme is mainly through his use of humour, witticism and absurdism, and this allows Brautigan to counteract the feeling of disappointment, loss and death. “Although his work is indeed extremely funny, there is a pervasive sense of loss, desolation and death in it which amounts to an implicit formulation of an attitude towards contemporary America” (Tanner 1971: p.406). Brautigan is able to expresses the feelings of disappointment, loss and death through the fragmented nature of the novel, it has been suggested that Trout Fishing in America can be read as a “collection of tiny fictions or perhaps even prose poems, each highly wrought, like exquisitely handcrafted trout flies or lures, most of them with enough interest and hooking power to “work” by themselves” (Cooley 1981: p.405). By telling the narrative in this fragmented style Brautigan has enabled himself to apply various meanings to the title Trout Fishing in America without having to adhere to a strong linear storyline, and can therefore apply the title to various subjects or situations. For example Trout Fishing in America becomes a pen nib, a place, a person, a sport, or even the environmental degradation and commercialism that Brautigan could see consuming America. This allows Brautigan a freedom in his writing to express various experiences of disappointment, loss and death. As the novel is in fact more like a collection of prose poems or individual works of fiction than perhaps a more conventional linear novel, Brautigan encourages the use of the reader’s imagination while continually alluding to the bleak reality of disappointment, loss and death. ‘Trout Fishing on the Bevel’ is a clever example of how Brautigan fuses the feeling of death and loss with a humorous description, as well as alluding to the class divide that separates the rich from the poor even in death. “The graveyard had fine marble headstones and statues and tombs. The other graveyard was for the poor…There were no fancy headstones for the poor dead” (Brautigan 1967: p.26). It could be suggested that this is Brautigan further condemning the consumer driven approach to life in America, that even in death there are those who have and those who don’t. The humour in this chapter is related through the epitaphs he describes on the gravestones or markers of the ‘poor dead’, “Devoted slob father of”, “Beloved worked to death mother of”, “John Talbot who at the age of eighteen had his ass shot out in a honky- tonk, this mayonnaise jar with wilted flowers in it was left here six months ago by his sister who is in the crazy place now” (Brautigan 1967: p.27). The reference to the crazy place could be alluding to the time that some of the ‘Beat’ poets spent in an insane asylum, and to who Brautigan dedicated much of his work including Trout Fishing in America. It was not unknown for the ‘Beat’ poets and writers to check themselves into an insane asylum through the winter months and then be released in the spring, “Ah yes, there was a future in the insane asylum. No winter spent there could be a total loss” (Brautigan 1967: p.23). It is through Brautigan’s capability to merge death, loss and disappointment with a dark humour and often sarcastic, absurdist view of American culture that has seen it described as “some of the most original and refreshing prose to appear in the sixties” (Tanner 1971 :p.412). Brautigan’s ability to use humour as a counter balance against loss, death and disappointment continues throughout the novel and in many ways allows the reader to find...
Bibliography: Word count : 2248
Brautigan, Richard (1967). Trout Fishing in America. Vintage Books, London.
Cooley, John (1981). The Garden in the Machine. Michigan Academician.
Tanner, Tony (1971). City of Words; American Fiction 1950-1970 HarperCollins
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