A River Runs Through It

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A River Runs Through It Characters

Norman Maclean

The narrator of the novella, Norman lives in Wolf Creek, Montana with his wife, Jessie, and her family. Norman is fiercely loyal to, but also competitive with, his brother Paul, and with Paul… (read full character analysis)

Paul Maclean

Norman’s younger brother and a newspaper reporter in Helena, the capital city of Montana. Paul has always had a stubborn streak, from his boyhood refusal to eat oatmeal to his adult reluctance to accept anyone’s… (read full character analysis)

Norman’s father

A Presbyterian minister of Scottish background, who is fiercely proud of that past. “Father” educates Norman and Paul in both religion and fly-fishing—indeed, for him, the two are inseparable. He sees both as revealing God’s… (read full character analysis)

Norman’s mother

The sole woman in the Maclean household, she also dotes on Paul, though she grows distraught and silent when he fails to give up his late nights out. Norman’s mother is not permitted to… (read full character analysis)


Norman’s wife, from Wolf Creek, Montana. Jessie worries over her brother Neal in much the same way that Norman worries about Paul. It’s ironic, then, that this shared quality threatens to cause major problems… (read full character analysis)
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Jessie’s brother and Norman’s brother-in-law, who is originally from Wolf Creek but now lives on the West Coast. Neal has returned for a visit to Montana in the summer of 1937. Neal is very much… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Jessie and Neal’s brother and the only man in their family who remained in Wolf Creek. Ken has various connections to locals, which allows the family to fish in private waters not accessible to others.
Ken’s wife and a nurse. She feels a certain kinship with Norman, since they both have married into the family.
The mother of Jessie, Neal, and Ken. She is of Scottish heritage like the Maclean patriarch, and both Norman and Paul adore her, though Norman can be somewhat afraid of her, especially when she grows protective about Neal.
Old Rawhide
The town whore, who spends most of her time in Black Jack’s Bar when she is not living for a time with one suitor or another. She and Neal have a brief affair and she joins a disastrous fishing trip with him, Norman, and Paul.
Long Bow
Another character at Black Jack’s, whose nickname refers to his tendency to “pull the long bow,” or make up fantastical stories about his hunting and fishing—though Norman has witnessed first-hand Long Bow’s impressive marksmanship.
Police sergeants
Norman interacts with two police sergeants in the novella, both relating to Paul. The first has a conversation with Norman after Paul is arrested for getting into a bar fight, and the second one shares the news of Paul’s death with Norman.
Norman’s nickname for the part-Native American woman that Paul sometimes goes out with, also called simply “Paul’s girl.” Her mother is Cheyenne, and she can be fierce and feisty, often eager for Paul to get into a fight to defend her.