The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop Analysis Essay Example

  • Category: Literature, Poem,
  • Words: 1160 Pages: 5
  • Published: 23 June 2021
  • Copied: 160

The worlds beautiful colorful ecosystems have become littered with the ugly doings of humans. The human race has done more damage to this planet than all other species combined. They have destroyed hundreds of miles of forest and exterminated other species completely. “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop is her way of raising awareness to the damage humans are causing to the environment and the creatures that live in it. Elizabeth Bishop uses imagery, similes, and other literary devices to show the negative impacts humans have done to the environment.

The Poem starts off with the narrator catching a giant fish, it has multiple hooks in the corner of its mouth already and it is in very poor physical condition. The narrator observes the fish for a while and notices the fish has white sea lice, barnacles, and is covered in weeds. The speaker then continues to praise the fish for being wise after it escaped being captured five other times. After a while of the narrator observing the fish, the boat started leaking oil and formed a rainbow in the water. The narrator decides to throw the fish back in the water and leave. 

Lines five and six of the poem “The Fish” show just how bad the physical condition of the fish really is. The lines explain how the fish did not put up a fight when it was captured. Anyone that has ever been fishing knows that all fish put up a fight even if it is short-lived but not the one the narrator caught. The only fishes that do not struggle when they are hooked are the ones that are severally ill or on the brink of death. Based on this basic knowledge the readers can infer that Elizabeth Bishop is trying to describe an ill fish because it lacked a fish’s fighting spirit.                                                             

This shows just how horrible the ecosystem is in the river the fish lives in. In order for fish to become that severally ill to the point, they do not have the strength to even struggle. The quality of the water has to be extremely poor. Elizabeth Bishop used lines five and six to show how humans have polluted rivers which have caused the health of the fishes to decline. 

Lines ten and eleven of the poem "The Fish" go hand to hand with five and six. Lines ten and eleven are a simile that compares the "old brown skin" of the fish to "ancient wallpaper” (Elizabeth 608). This simile paints a very vivid picture of the condition of the fish. Ancient wallpaper is usually falling apart and is covered with stains and or tares. Comparing a living creature to something like ancient wallpaper is very powerful because it depicts just how much damage the fish has really sustained while living in the polluted water. 

Lines sixteen through nineteen go even further in depth on the horrendous state of the fish. The lines describe the fish by stating it had “barnacles” and is infested with” white sea-lice (Elizabeth 609). For a fish to get barnacles it has to remain still for prolonged periods of time. In the wild healthy fish never stay still for long periods of time because they need water moving through their gills in order to breath. Elizabeth Bishop added these lines to show that the fish is indeed very ill to the point where it does not have the energy to swim. The loss of energy of the fish is more than likely connected to the increasing deterioration of the environment the fish live in.

The confirmation of pollution

Lines twenty-one and twenty- two confirm the idea that the river the fish lives in is very polluted. In these lines, the narrator says, "while the gills were breathing in the terrible oxygen" (Elizabeth 609). Here Elizabeth basically comes out and confesses to the readers that the water is polluted. she goes as far as to say “terrible oxygen” which basically proves that humans are causing substantial harm to the fish’s ecosystem because humans are the ones polluting the world.

Lines twenty-seven and thirty-one takes a drastic turn. Here Elizabeth Bishop is admiring the beauty of the fish and its insides by using imagery to describe the fish. This is something that she has not done throughout the whole poem. Elizabeth Bishop uses a simile in order to compare the “coarse white flesh” to “feathers”. Feathers have traditionally been used as symbols of wealth and expensive clothing. Elizabeth likely choose to include these lines in order to show that animals in the wild are still beautiful from the inside although their outer layers are scared with wounds that may have been caused by human’s pollution of their natural habitats. 

In lines forty-three and forty-four Elizabeth Bishop writes “it was more like the tipping of an object toward the light” (609) this shifts the poem back to the severity of the health of the fish. The fish seems to be dying while the narrator is holding it out of the water. This can be inferred because Elizabeth writes that it was going “towards the light”. That phrase is used to describe a dying person or animal which in this case would be the sick fish.   

In lines fifty-four and fifty-five of the “The Fish” Elizabeth Bishop writes “five big hooks grown firmly in his mouth” (609). Elizabeth included these lines in the poem to further depict the horrible condition the fish is in but could also have a second deeper meaning. That second meaning to these lines would be the global mass fishing industries that are overfishing earth's oceans. The five hooks in the fish’s mouth are symbols that could represent different fishing industries with a common goal, the fish itself. The five hooks could also have a different meaning or representation. Each hook could be a representation of one of the earth's main oceans and the hooks being hooked on to the fish could represent the overfishing in all major oceans in the world. Elizabeth Bishop likely implemented the idea of overfishing in her poem "The Fish" to show that overfishing is a catastrophic way humans are causing harm to an eco-systems, which in this case would be all major oceans in the world. 

Line sixty-nine brings up another major issue, that being oil spills. The narrator states the following in line sixty-nine, “where oil had spread a rainbow” (Elizabeth 609). Elizabeth Bishop included this personification in order to show the river was indeed polluted. She used the word rainbow to try and keep the poems peaceful demeanor while still being straight forward with the readers. She could have also tried to include line sixty-nine to raise awareness to the large amounts of damage oil spills can cause marine life. Elizabeth Bishop used the fish’s poor condition to support that idea but did not reveal her intentions until the end of the poem.  

Elizabeth Bishop used her poem “The Fish” to protest and to raise public awareness on the amount of harm humans are causing to the ecosystems of animals around the world but more specifically marine life. Elizabeth Bishop used imagery and similes to describe the horrific physical condition of the fish. She used symbolism to infer to the readers the dangers of overfishing the oceans of the world. Elizabeth also touched on the oil spillage disasters by describing them as rainbows but also shows the drastic effects it has on animals by depicting the terrible state of the fish.



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