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Volume 72, Issue 4, Fall 2020

James Mayo
Pages 215-230

The Knower, the Sayer, and the Doer in Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It

This essay addresses the connections between Emersonian and Wordsworthian concepts and Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs through It, specifically those ideas of the Knower, the Sayer, and the Doer from Emerson’s “The Poet,” Emerson’s concept of what constitutes poetry and “The Poet,” as well as Wordsworth’s notions of poetic creativity. As discussed in the essay, Emerson’s concepts of the Knower, the Sayer, and the Doer line up with the three central characters of the novella—The Reverend Maclean, Norman Maclean (both the author and the narrator), and Paul Maclean respectively. It is the unique blending of Romantic poetic leanings and religion that make all three the characters they are, which the author represents through the use of fishing as metaphor. The difficulties faced by the Sayer, as he tries to relate the story of past events and “spots in time,” are central to my argument, as they present the central conflict of the novel and offer the readers a contradiction as well, as the character who’s known as the Sayer should have no trouble expressing himself. However, it is with Wordsworth’s notion of ideas reflected on in tranquility that allow the Sayer to tell the story of his brother, the great poet/artist in a Romantic sense.

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