Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Why Trout?

By Dan Barth on Saturday, August 11, 2001 07:55 pm
We live in a world of symbols, we humans on earth with all our languages. The fish, a live, vibrant creature of our oceans, lakes and streams is also a symbol of hope, love and community. This was true for many primary peoples, for early Christians, and for young hippies who read Richard Brautigan's books, 'In Watermelon Sugar' and 'Trout Fishing in America'. In both books trout are used extensively as symbols and realities. Ernest Hemingway of course had used trout and trout streams to symbolize hope of a new and better life after World War I. In the 1960s Brautigan appropriated Papa's trout streams for a gentler, funkier vision of American manhood and American life.

Kurt Vonnegut's books were also popular among young people in the 60s and 70s. Though known for his black humor, Vonnegut envisioned the possibility of a better, more humane society. One character in particular pops up recurrently in his novels, a character who seems to stand for perseverance and hope in spite of everything. That character is the old science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout.

In Bob Dylan's song, 'Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread,' the trout swims in again:

It's a one-track town, just brown, and a breeze, too,
Pack up the meat, sweet, we're headin' out
For Wichita in a pile of fruit
Get the loot, don't be slow, we're gonna catch a trout
Get the loot, don't be slow, we're gonna catch a trout
Get the loot, don't be slow, we're gonna catch a trout

Why trout? Why not? We live in a world of symbols.

Yesterday I took two 11-year-old boys trout fishing. We fished the ponds at Mill Creek Park above Talmage. We used worms and salmon eggs and power bait but we did not catch any fish. Next time though, we're gonna catch a trout. Why trout? Why not? We live in a world of symbols.
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