A River Runs Through It

Norman’s father Character Analysis

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 grace and mysterious workings in the world. He loves both his sons, but may have a softer spot for Paul. Along with Norman, he worries about Paul and wonders how to help him. Norman often notes how his father is one of the few men he knows to use the word “beautiful” casually, and this description underlines his father’s general attitude of wonder towards the world, even as that view is tempered by pain and confusion.

Norman’s father Quotes in A River Runs Through It

The A River Runs Through It quotes below are all either spoken by Norman’s father or refer to Norman’s father. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the University of Chicago Press edition of A River Runs Through It published in 2001.
Part 1 Quotes

As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. […] As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty. Unlike many Presbyterians, he often used the word “beautiful.”

Related Characters: Norman Maclean (speaker), Norman’s father
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other A River Runs Through It quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.

Related Characters: Norman Maclean (speaker), Norman’s father
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mo

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 2 Quotes

Rhythm was just as important as color and just as complicated. It was one rhythm superimposed upon another, our father’s four-count rhythm of the line and wrist being still the base rhythm. But superimposed upon it was the piston two count of his arm and the long overriding four count of the completed figure eight of his reversed loop.
The canyon was glorified by rhythms and colors.

Related Characters: Norman Maclean (speaker), Paul Maclean, Norman’s father
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 3 Quotes

“Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.”
“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.”

Related Characters: Norman’s father (speaker)
Related Symbols: Scripture
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Then he told me, “In the part I was reading it says the Word was in the beginning, and that’s right. I used to think water was first, but if you listen carefully you will hear that the words are underneath the water.”
“That’s because you are a preacher first and then a fisherman,” I told him. “If you ask Paul, he will tell you that the words are formed out of water.”
“No,” my father said, “you are not listening carefully. The water runs over the words. Paul will tell you the same thing.”

Related Characters: Norman Maclean (speaker), Norman’s father (speaker), Paul Maclean
Related Symbols: Rivers, Scripture
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don’t you make up a story and the people that go with it? Only then will you understand what happened and why. It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

Related Characters: Norman’s father (speaker), Norman Maclean, Paul Maclean
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Get the entire A River Runs Through It LitChart as a printable PDF.
A river runs through it.pdf.medium

Norman’s father Character Timeline in A River Runs Through It

The timeline below shows where the character Norman’s father appears in A River Runs Through It. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
...his Presbyterian family in western Montana, fly-fishing and religion were considered of one piece. Norman’s father would tell him and his brother, Paul, all about the fishermen who were Christ’s disciples. (full context)
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
...to spend the entire day in Sunday school, at services, and studying the catechism. Their father says that the most important part of the catechism is the first question, the question... (full context)
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Their father was never an incredibly talented fisherman, but he is graceful. As a Scot and Presbyterian,... (full context)
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Norman’s father’s rod—he disdains anyone who calls it a pole—is made of split bamboo wrapped in delicate... (full context)
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Norman’s father is always particular about these things, among others—he believes that eternal salvation is tied to... (full context)
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
...stubbornness. At one point, as a boy, Paul wins a battle of wills with his father about eating oatmeal in the morning. (full context)
Part 2
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Norman transitions in his memories to the summer of 1937, when his father had retired and was living with their mother in Missoula, while Paul was a reporter... (full context)
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Paul loves Florence, partly because she, also a Scot, looks like his father, with blue eyes and sandy hair. Florence had said that Paul was the best fisherman... (full context)
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
...wrist and arm are far bigger than his left. Norman watches the multiple rhythms: their father’s four-count, Paul’s piston two-count, and the arcing four-count of his loop. A couple emerges from... (full context)
Part 3
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
...this was actually Norman’s favorite, but they never have the heart to correct her. Their father is in retirement now, and loves hearing about Paul’s real-world reporter stories. After dinner, Norman... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
Norman isn’t sure how much his father knows about Paul, but assumes some things have reached him from the congregation. Now (after... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
As Norman’s father goes to the door, he turns and says that he is too old to help... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Their father can’t find his fishing tackle at first, so they leave later than they expected to.... (full context)
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
...river down a steep bank, next to red and green Precambrian rocks. Norman and his father recall how they picked such rocks to build their fireplace. His father remembers how some... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Father says he’ll head down to the open water, while Norman and Paul stay by these... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
...he feels loved by the women in his life, Neal seems a distant memory, his father and brother are fishing with him, and he might even catch more fish than Paul.... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
Skill and Art Theme Icon
One more hole lies between the brothers and their father. Paul yells across the river to ask what the fish are biting on, and Norman... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Norman says he’s going to sit by his father and wait for Paul. He’s certain that his father is reading the New Testament in... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Norman’s father says that in the part of the Bible he was reading it says the Word... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Skill and Art Theme Icon
...two fingers, meaning he has two fish left to reach his limit. Norman and his father get up, and Father throws a rock over to Paul’s side of the river, so... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Norman’s father, looking out at Paul, says there must be a big one where he’s casting, just... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
To Norman, the performance looks like children playing. Norman and his father reassure each other that Paul will get the fish. Paul works the fish into shallow... (full context)
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
That would be the last fish Norman and his father ever saw Paul catch. When they would talk about it later, they thought it was... (full context)
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
Skill and Art Theme Icon
Norman’s father, who is shy in praise, tells Paul that he is a fine fisherman. Paul replies... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
Skill and Art Theme Icon
After Norman tells his father the news, his father asks for more information. Norman says that nearly all the bones... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
Eternal Nature vs. Human Frailty Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Once Norman’s father asks if Norman thinks he (the father) could have helped Paul. Norman responds, “Do you... (full context)
Familial and Brotherly Love Theme Icon
Help and Helplessness Theme Icon
Grace, Disgrace, and Divine Will Theme Icon
Once, though, Norman’s father asks some questions that make Norman wonder if he eve really understood his father, whom... (full context)