As I Lay Dying

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Fish Symbol Icon
The fish Vardaman catches for dinner early in the novel provides him with a meaningful symbol to understand the nature and meaning of death. After Addie's death, Vardaman realizes that the fish, like his mother, is now in a different state of existence than before, leading him to conclude, "My mother is a fish." This connection between Addie and fish emerges once again during the river episode, as Vardaman compares his mother's coffin to the fish in the river. The idea of the dead fish aids Vardaman's process of coping with loss, as he is only able to understand mortality and the idea of existence by looking at the concrete example of a fish, once alive, that he caught and cut up to be cooked for dinner.
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Fish Symbol Timeline in As I Lay Dying

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fish appears in As I Lay Dying. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
8. Tull
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
Vardaman emerges from the hill with a dead fish in his hand, proudly telling Anse and Tull that he plans to show it to... (full context)
9. Anse
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
After a while, Vardaman returns to the house with the fish chopped up, and with his own body covered in blood. Anse tells Vardaman to go... (full context)
13. Vardaman
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
...begins to cry after looking at the place in the dust where he placed the fish he caught. He notices that the fish he caught, now cut up, has become "not-fish"... (full context)
14. Dewey Dell
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
...prepares greens and bread, but claims she does not have enough time to cook the fish Vardaman caught. Anse complains about the meagerness of the meal. When Cash comes into eat,... (full context)
15. Vardaman
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
..."It was not my mother." He then connects this idea to the idea that the fish he caught was once alive, and is now chopped up, laying bleeding in the pan... (full context)
16. Tull
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
...comes into the house wet and covered in mud, and continues to talk about the fish he caught and chopped up for dinner. Tull reasons that Vardaman's nonsensical words and strange... (full context)
19. Vardaman
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
Vardaman states: "My mother is a fish." (full context)
20. Tull
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
...be free from Anse. Cora and Tull leave the funeral and find Vardaman attempting to fish in a nearby bog on their way home. Tull tells Vardaman to come home with... (full context)
24. Vardaman
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
Vardaman states once again that his mother is a fish, though Darl claims that Jewel's mother is a horse. Vardaman confusedly reasons that if Jewel... (full context)
35. Vardaman
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
...does not succeed. Vardaman asks Darl where Addie is, reminding him that she is a fish, and that he let her get away. (full context)