Metaphor is a figure of speech in which one subject is described in terms of a dissimilar subject, in order to suggest an analogy. McCorkle uses metaphor directly at the beginning of the story when the narrator describes her father’s “metaphor for life”: “You WERE TERRIFIED of the water, but you loved to step into it, chest deep, pool edge within reach.” The narrator’s father was a courageous man, who coped with his fears by assuring his safety. She recalls his coming in the water to cheer for her when she dove and swam around him.
The toadfish the narrator catches suggests her father’s ability to continue on despite problems. The hook is lodged too deeply in the fish for her father to remove it, so he cuts the line and lets the “poor old guy” swim away. The fish had a narrow escape and will live despite the hook in his body. As if drawing a comparison to himself, the father says, “But just think of the fishtales he’ll have for his children and grandchildren. He will always be the one that got away.” The father has lived through difficulties as a child, had depression through his adult life, and yet he has been able to go on, relating with his children and grandchildren.
Tone is the manner of expression used by the writer to convey mood, emotion, setting, or some other desired quality. The tone used by McCorkle’s narrator is at first nostalgic as she reflects on her and her father’s lives. She remembers events, even those from before she was born, but these are stories of her family that have been given to her. They are an oral history of sorts. The narrator’s nostalgia is also accented by grief, as she watches her father die. The moment of dying can be fraught with desperation, a chance for one last opportunity, one last interaction, one last word. The dying man’s wife and children beg him to blink. It is his one remaining mode of communication, the only thing on his body he can move. He obliges them, and with one final blink of his eyes, he is dead. “Fish” ends with a definite turn toward sadness in the tone as the narrator comes to terms with her father’s death. In the end, in a dream, they are briefly reunited, and the father reassures the daughter, “You are my heart; that’s all that there is.” The story ends on an uplifted note as the daughter promises her father as he dies that she will be looking for him.
Direct Address and Tense
“Fish” is written in first person point of view with the narrator addressing her dying father as “you.” The use of direct address conveys intimacy and privacy, a communication between the speaker and a specific person. The communication is not intended for everyone, just the one being addressed. Direct address, thus, draws the reader into what in meant for only one other person. To add immediacy to this sense of privacy, McCorkle writes the story in present tense. The narrator’s memories are reported in the past tense, certain past events in the father’s life are also reported in past event, but the time stretching out in the present are the hours of vigil at the dying man’s bedside. The narrator says, “When you come home from the hospital this time, we know that it is the beginning of the end.” Some present time later, she says, “On the afternoon you die, we keep asking for a sign, a blink, a twitch.” The family wants some communication back from the father, some acknowledgement. They sing to him; they hope he hears them. In the end, at the moment before he dies, “when your eyes were still able to blink,” she says, he speaks his final words, “You are my heart; that’s all that there is.” The deep connection between father and daughter is conveyed. The direct address and the present tense put the reader right there in the room when the father dies, right at the moment of dying.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Jill McCorkle, Published by Gale Group, 2006