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'Hastily departed brothers': saving the lost son in A River Runs Through It, Highland River, and No Great Mischief . Presentation by: Emily Hendrix, Jason Hundley, Chad Byers, and Aaron Hunt. Author and Comparison Book.

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'Hastily departed brothers': saving the lost son in A River Runs Through It, Highland River, and No Great Mischief

Presentation by:

Emily Hendrix, Jason Hundley,

Chad Byers, and Aaron Hunt

Author and comparison book
Author and Comparison Book

  • CHARLOTTE FAIRLIEteaches English at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio.

  • Published articles for:

    The Association for Scottish Literary Studies

    Article’s Source: Scottish Studies Review

  • She cites 14 sources from which she drew information for this essay


  • Highland River, 1937 novel by Neil Gunn, is about a young hero, Kenn, who makes a pilgrimage to the source of the Dunbeath Water and, in a way, to the source of himself and his cultural heritage. The river becomes a complex symbol: simultaneously a river of time, of space, of memory, of humanity and of consciousness.

Paragraphs 1 8
Paragraphs 1-8

  • Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It and Neil Gunn's Highland River, tell stories of a struggle. Each focuses on a nuclear family and its efforts to save a lost son, exhibiting striking similarities in plot, character, imagery, and romantic sensibility. (4)

  • 'Diaspora’ (3)

  • ‘Powerful Pathos’---The image of the displaced Scot, struggling for identity, keenly aware of and trying to retain a connection with the mother culture... (3)

Paragraphs 1 81
Paragraphs 1-8

  • Both Paul and Angus are skilled fishermen, daredevils, risk-takers, admired respectively by their less skilled and more cautious brothers. Maclean and Gunn both explore the power of memory and the role of a river in each of their lives. The Big Blackfoot and Highland Rivers, redolent of family, home, history, and nature, are restorative in Wordsworthian terms; yet, ironically, while their talented brothers die prematurely, it is Norman and Kenn, the less dazzling sons, who are able to experience a mystical oneness with their rivers throughout their lives. In doing so, they develop a surer sense of identity. (5)

Paragraphs 9 13
Paragraphs 9- 13

  • Norman knows Paul is walking a self-destructive path, but he continues to bathe his brother in glory. (9)

  • The halos, rainbows, and iridescence of this passage bestow on Paul a heavenly glow, but this is undermined by the instability of the light. The halo is always there, yet it disappears. (9)

  • The Paul that Norman recalls dappled in the sunlight of youth is also 'the Scottish equivalent of the "Black Irish,"' addicted to alcohol and gambling, his shadowy life leading inexorably to his murder on the streets (RR p.24). (11)

Paragraphs 9 131
Paragraphs 9-13

  • As long as all is going well, as long as Paul and Angus are dancing with the river, marking its tempo and landing their quarry, they are exalted, but for both, this connection with the river, so central to family and home, is fragile. (10)

  • Observing and admiring their brothers without serious envy, they see Paul and Angus apparently harmonizing more easily with the river, but they quietly work at perfecting their own fishing skills. It is Norman and Kenn, however, diffident rather than dashing, who merge more fully with the river than their brothers. (12)

Paragraphs 14 23
Paragraphs 14-23

  • Norman and the river are one

    • “Norman and Kenn are the survivors in their families, returning to the rivers of their youth, both physically and spiritually, experiencing again the familiar and reassuring oneness… Norman Maclean has left Montana--his parents, brother, and wife all dead--but the river, and his memories of it, allow him to 'reach out to them' (RR p.104).” – Article, quotes book “I am haunted by waters” – haunted by the departed members of his family “He not only reaches out to his family, but he hears them in the sound of the river. He is haunted, but the ghosts are friendly.” (16)

Paragraphs 14 231
Paragraphs 14-23

  • “the river is timeless, and because Maclean is the river, he too can transcend time.”- When Norman is in the river he is no more a person but a being in coexistence with nature. The river never changes, it is always redemptive, it is always flowing over the Word which came first. (20)

  • Since the river is timeless, Norman, again, can be with his family through it. “The waters are healing and strengthening, allowing him to survive intact, to cope with the pain of separation and loss.” (20)

Paragraphs 24 35
Paragraphs 24-35

  • the characters in the story… “Ultimately they say more about the human condition--the universal need for family, a sense of place, a connection to nature--than about the Scottish experience.” (35)

  • “Both texts suggest that it is the destiny of Scottish men to scatter, to be recalled fondly as 'hastily departed brothers' (RR p.28). (25)”

  • Paragraph 26 states that Scottish men, once they have left home, must “retain a connection to their origins” because this, “appears to be crucial for both spiritual and physical health. (26)” This paragraph goes on to describe how Paul did not stay connected, but Norman did.

Paragraphs 24 351
Paragraphs 24-35

  • At the end of the story, even though the focus is on Paul, “Norman, not Paul, will meet his death with a real possibility of grace.” (24)

  • The overall meaning of the paper is to discover how a Scottish heritage has affected the needs that these characters have. Needs for nature, family, and belonging are prominent.