The main dilemma in Wetherell’s ‘‘The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant’’ reflects one of the major themes of this short story, namely, the theme of sacrifice. The narrator is torn between his desire to impress Sheila Mant in order to win her affection and his love of fishing. At the beginning of the story, the narrator can enjoy both of his passions since they do not interfere with one another. He watches Sheila from a distance and entertains fantasies about who she is and how their relationship might develop. When he is on his own, he can either go out on his canoe or stand along the shore and fish without distraction. However, as the story progresses, and the narrator and Sheila are brought together, he discovers that his love of fishing and the potential development of a relationship with Sheila remain at odds. One of them must be sacrificed. Throughout the final part of the story, the narrator attempts to keep both his passions alive. In order to do so, he must be deceptive. Even though he realizes his two passions are not compatible, he puts off making a decision as long as he can. On the one hand, he has possibly snagged the biggest fish he might ever see. On the other, he has likewise snagged the biggest date. Sheila believes fishing is boring and implies that anyone who wastes time fishing is dumb. The narrator has a huge crush on Sheila and naturally does not wish to appear stupid. So a sacrifice is called for. In the end, he very reluctantly sacrifices the fish. As he learns by the conclusion of the story, this sacrifice proves wasteful and ineffective. Despite the fact that he has successfully concealed his true feelings as well as his struggle with the bass, the narrator fails to win Sheila’s heart. Though readers might sense that the narrator never had a chance of scoring with Sheila, the narrator did not see this. He sacrificed the fish for the girl. At the end of the story, he loses both the fish and the girl, though the sacrifice extends only to the bass. He learns his lesson and vows he will never make that type of sacrifice again. What is implied is that it was more than just the fish that was sacrificed. The young boy also sacrificed part of his own identity. He concealed his true feelings and allowed the young girl to convince him that something that was a deep part of him (his passion for fishing) was stupid.
The narrator in this short story has two obsessions: fishing and Sheila Mant. An obsession implies an overwhelming, irrational desire or compulsion. In the narrator’s case, his obsession with Sheila causes him to think excessively about her and also blinds him to the young girl’s shortcomings. As for his obsession with fishing, the narrator has a compulsion to fish, even if this means lying about it.
The narrator misjudges his chances of success with Sheila. He does not realize that she is all show—how she looks and who she hangs out with (mostly older boys). Her acceptance of the narrator’s offer to take her to the concert fuels his obsession, leading him to make the decision to choose Sheila over the bass. Had he thought of Sheila in more rational terms, he might have chosen the fish and prevented much of his disappointment. After all, if she truly were interested in him, she would have welcomed him into her life along with his love of nature and fishing. If the narrator had not been so obsessed with Sheila, he might have been more true to himself and not have lied to her.
Various forms of deception appear in Wetherell’s short story. First, the narrator attempts to deceive Sheila by hiding his true identity. A huge part of the narrator’s life is involved with fishing and the natural world. He loves being out in nature and, in particular, is absorbed in the study of fish as well as the sport of fishing. Once Sheila makes a negative statement about the sport, the narrator hides his true nature and pretends to be someone he is not.
The second form of deception is the narrator’s attempt to conceal his actions as well as his excitement when he catches the big bass. He camouflages his moves, lies about why the canoe is moving in unusual patterns, and keeps his emotions under control while simultaneously engaging in one of the biggest battles of his fishing experience. The third form of deception occurs when the narrator attempts to deceive himself. He convinces himself that he has a chance with Sheila though he knows she is two years older, that she receives a lot of attention from college admirers, and probably accepts his invitation just for the heck of it. He does not tune in to the clues that Sheila provides, which should have told him that they have very little in common.
A fourth type of deception derives from Sheila. By going home with Eric, Sheila obviously shows that she is not interested in the narrator. She leads him on, making him believe she is truly going on a date with him. If this were a date, she should have returned home with the narrator in his canoe. In fact, the trip downriver with the narrator was more of a joke or a novelty. It was something different to do. The narrator had an entirely different conception of the significance of the night, which Sheila helped him to create by not being completely truthful.
Coming of Age
This short story is often labeled as a coming-of-age tale. This phrase refers to the theme of learning a lesson that helps the main character become more mature. In a coming-of-age story, the main character is most often a teenager who is on the cusp of becoming an adult. In this story, the narrator learns several lessons that help him to become more mature. The first is about girls. Even though he is very attracted to Sheila physically, the narrator discovers there are more important qualities to look for in a mate. He also learns the importance of being true to oneself and not sacrificing one’s passions in the hopes of trying to impress another person. These are lessons the narrator will carry into adulthood and use to develop his character.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – W. D. Wetherell – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.