A River Runs Through It

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 help. Paul has an obvious drinking problem, which, coupled with a penchant for gambling and an eagerness to join in fights, has brought him in and out of jail a number of times. But in Norman’s portrayal, Paul’s most striking characteristic is his gift for fly-fishing. His love for the sport conquers his other weaknesses—Paul is never late for fishing even after spending entire nights on the town. Paul is described as an artist when fly-fishing. Yet as an artist, a kind of genius, Paul remains in many ways impenetrable for the rest of his family to comprehend, much less help.

Paul Maclean Quotes in A River Runs Through It

The A River Runs Through It quotes below are all either spoken by Paul Maclean or refer to Paul Maclean. 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 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:

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Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as “our brothers’ keepers,” possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting of instincts. It will not let us go.

Related Characters: Norman Maclean (speaker), Paul Maclean
Related Symbols: Scripture
Page Number: 28-29
Explanation and Analysis:

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I asked, “Do you think you should help him?”
“Yes,” he said, “I thought we were going to.”
“How?” I asked.
“By taking him fishing with us.”
“I’ve just told you,” I said, “he doesn’t like to fish.”
“Maybe so,” my brother replied. “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.”

Related Characters: Norman Maclean (speaker), Paul Maclean (speaker), Neal
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

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It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books. But I knew a story had begun, perhaps long ago near the sound of water. And I sensed that ahead I would meet something that would never erode so there would be a sharp turn, deep circles, a deposit, and quietness.

Related Characters: Norman Maclean (speaker), Paul Maclean
Related Symbols: Rivers
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 3 Quotes

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:

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“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:

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Paul Maclean Character Timeline in A River Runs Through It

The timeline below shows where the character Paul Maclean appears in A River Runs Through It. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
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...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)
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On Sundays, the young Norman and Paul have to spend the entire day in Sunday school, at services, and studying the catechism.... (full context)
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...easy. He teaches his two sons how to cast by using their mother’s piano metronome. Paul, who is three years younger than Norman, is already ahead of his brother in fishing-related... (full context)
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Despite their difference in age, Norman knows even as a young man that Paul will be an expert fly-fisherman. Paul always loves to bet on himself, an interest that... (full context)
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...Forest Service at the age of fifteen, and begins to spend summers away from fishing. Paul had decided that fishing was the main thing worth doing in life, so his summer... (full context)
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The Maclean family is very close-knit. Norman and Paul are taught that outside the sacred walls of church and family, the world is full... (full context)
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Norman and Paul also have in common a certain toughness—Norman’s from working at the Forest Service, and Paul... (full context)
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Norman and Paul share a street fighting theory: if it seems like a fight is brewing, it’s important... (full context)
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The only time Norman and Paul ever fight, they don’t see their mother, a petite woman, come between them to try... (full context)
Part 2
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...1937, when his father had retired and was living with their mother in Missoula, while Paul was a reporter in the capital of Helena, and Norman was living with his wife’s... (full context)
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One day in this summer of 1937, Norman goes to see Paul, following his mother-in-law Florence’s request that the two take her son Neal fishing when he... (full context)
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Norman finds Paul outside a Montana club at 10:30 in the morning, looking like he’s about to get... (full context)
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Paul and his editor begin drinking early each morning so that they won’t feel badly about... (full context)
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Paul loves Florence, partly because she, also a Scot, looks like his father, with blue eyes... (full context)
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Paul agrees to fish with Neal, since Florence wants him to. Then Norman buys them both... (full context)
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Paul proposes that beforehand, he and Norman take the day off to fish the “big river,”... (full context)
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The next morning Paul picks up Norman at Wolf Creek. Once they pass the Continental Divide, Paul starts telling... (full context)
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Paul doesn’t mention that he always starts drinking when he’s done fishing (though never during). Norman... (full context)
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Paul watches Norman and is careful not to seem superior, but suggests that the fish are... (full context)
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...is too large for the basket and, with its crustacean-like black spots, looks oceanic. When Paul sees it, he tips his hat to Norman in respect. (full context)
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Norman watches Paul jump into the river and swim out to a cliff, where he climbs up and... (full context)
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Paul is relatively short, but has developed muscles specifically for fly-fishing: his right wrist and arm... (full context)
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It’s late when Paul and Norman head back towards Helena, so Paul suggests that Norman stay with him for... (full context)
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The sergeant says that Paul is behind in the big poker game at Hot Springs, where things can get more... (full context)
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Norman’s mind flashes back to the woman wearing overalls who had admired Paul’s shadow-casting. Then he enters the room, where Paul is standing by the barred window. The... (full context)
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Paul’s girl enjoys getting into trouble, walking arm in arm with Paul and Norman on Last... (full context)
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...struggles to get up, but her legs buckle and her stockings slip down. She and Paul both smell like alcohol. Norman carries Paul’s girl out the door as Paul follows. The... (full context)
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...to live on the outskirts of town, by the slaughterhouse or dump, Norman doesn’t take Paul’s girl home but rather puts her to sleep in the guest bed in Paul’s apartment.... (full context)
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...to Wolf Creek. He tries to figure out what might help him reach out to Paul. He thinks of other troublemakers in his father’s family, from Scotland to Fairbanks, Alaska, whom... (full context)
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...even if it seems unlikely. As Norman drives into a canyon, he reminds himself that Paul isn’t like other people in his family: he is an artist, and would never run... (full context)
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The next day Paul is there early: he and Norman never go against the rule by which they were... (full context)
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...rugged until it only consists of two ruts. As soon as it reaches the riverside, Paul jumps out; he’s ready with his leader and flies before Norman has even moved. Jessie... (full context)
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Norman notes that Paul might have caught so many fish partly because he spends more time in the water—he’s... (full context)
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Norman wonders if he should speak to Paul about the other night, or at least offer to help him with money. He follows... (full context)
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...fixes his timing, he soon grows tired of the small, easy-to-catch fish. Norman wonders what Paul is doing, since he can’t ben wasting his time on 10-inch Brook Trout. He notes... (full context)
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One summer, Paul had been watching Norman fish in open water and, frustrated, said that you can’t catch... (full context)
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...He hears a voice saying that the fish was a big one. Norman turns to Paul and says, looking down, that he missed him. Paul says that no one can catch... (full context)
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Paul says it was in shallow, open water without bushes, since Browns usually feed along the... (full context)
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Suddenly, without knowing why, Norman asks if he can help Paul with money or anything, because of the other night. Then, nervous at Paul’s silence, he... (full context)
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Then Paul asks where Neal is. Norman is caught off guard, and has to think about it.... (full context)
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Paul tells Norman they should find Neal, and says he shouldn’t have left him behind. Norman... (full context)
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Norman and Paul start upstream as the black cloud descends over the canyon. Present-day Norman, now thinking back... (full context)
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Paul and Norman trek back to the truck, soaking wet. Norman pokes his head through the... (full context)
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Norman feels better having Paul beside him, and hopes that one day he can help Paul as much as he’s... (full context)
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...truck gets stuck in the muddy ruts of the road. Ken drives the truck and Paul and Norman push. Norman suggests to Ken that Neal get out and help, but Ken... (full context)
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...of his wife’s way for a few days if she’s to forgive him. He calls Paul to ask if he wants to meet at Seeley Lake, by the Blackfoot Canyon, where... (full context)
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Two days later, as Norman and Paul are driving west, Paul begins to tell Norman about a new girl he’s picked up.... (full context)
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...and how the fish will probably be all lying on the bottom. Soon he and Paul reach the tamarack trees where their cabin is located, and they hear a car turn... (full context)
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...“Buster” except Norman, whom she calls “you.” Norman thinks he’ll never be able to convince Paul that he didn’t rope him into this on purpose. Buster has no money left, Old... (full context)
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They all pile into Paul’s car, and Norman notices they don’t have a fishing rod. He doesn’t dare tell Paul... (full context)
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Norman suggests to Paul that they turn away from the canyon, where the water is too rough for Neal,... (full context)
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...he probably can, so Neal says he’ll fish there. Old Rawhide wakes up and hands Paul the liquor bottle. Paul gives it directly to Neal, as neither he nor Norman will... (full context)
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Norman notes that in Montana beer doesn’t count as drinking—Paul counts out eight bottles, and tells Neal where they’ll bury them so that they’ll keep... (full context)
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As Paul and Norman wander downstream, Paul remarks that Neal will one day realize he doesn’t like... (full context)
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Norman wants to quit but doesn’t want to tell Paul he didn’t catch anything, so he decides to try one more hole. He walks down... (full context)
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...back upstream and rest in the shade. He knows he’ll have to wait awhile, since Paul won’t be satisfied with just three or four. Norman sits and stares at the river... (full context)
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Suddenly Norman hears Paul’s voice, asking if he did well. Paul has caught about ten or twelve, and he... (full context)
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...the trail, Norman apologizes, saying he wishes he could have stayed away from Neal, but Paul says he couldn’t have. With a sudden burst of energy the brothers roar and race... (full context)
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...you could sleep naked next to a girl in the middle of a Montana river. Paul and Norman wade out to wake the pair up, though Paul pauses to take another... (full context)
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...on their head are fried. Norman points to a tattoo on Old Rawhide’s backside, which Paul says is LO on one cheek and VE on the other. Suddenly, Old Rawhide jumps... (full context)
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Paul separates Neal’s clothes from Old Rawhide’s. Norman says Neal won’t be able to stand the... (full context)
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...front, and Old Rawhide grabs the rest of her clothes and jumps out, yelling to Paul that he’s a bastard. Paul jumps out to follow her and finally kicks her in... (full context)
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...to nursing mode, until Neal is laid out like a red carcass on white sheets. Paul manages to sneak out the door to go to Black Jack’s, but Norman is held... (full context)
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...second-degree burn, so won’t be more than blisters and fever. She suggests that Norman and Paul head out, as they’re probably not wanted there. (full context)
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...isn’t able to, but Norman says he should understand that. Jessie suggests that Norman and Paul finish their Blackfoot fishing trip, but she tells him never to lose touch with her. (full context)
Part 3
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Norman goes to Black Jack’s to have a few drinks with Paul, who insists on paying. Paul says they should go back to the Blackfoot that night,... (full context)
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They arrive late to Missoula, where their mother is thrilled to see them, especially Paul. She butters all his rolls with his favorite chokecherry jelly—she’s forgotten that this was actually... (full context)
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As Norman helps their mother with the dishes, Paul says he’s going to run to town to see some old friends. It’s now quiet... (full context)
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Norman isn’t sure how much his father knows about Paul, but assumes some things have reached him from the congregation. Now (after Paul leaves) his... (full context)
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...that help doesn’t have to be that big. His father asks if Norman’s mother helps Paul by buttering his rolls, and Norman says she might. When his father asks if he... (full context)
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Norman waits a long time before falling asleep. Before getting up, he hears Paul open and shut his door. He remembers that Paul is never late for work or... (full context)
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...then spend more time hunting for a hole that won’t require their father to wade. Paul and Father argue about the right place, but finally they agree on a certain hole... (full context)
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Father says he’ll head down to the open water, while Norman and Paul stay by these big rocks. Paul suggests that they fish together. This is unusual, so... (full context)
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...for fish. He knows he’ll have to find a fly that looks just like them. Paul carries only several flies with him in his hat-band; he’s always chiding Norman for carrying... (full context)
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...father and brother are fishing with him, and he might even catch more fish than Paul. He casts the Stone Fly out, and a fish that seems like a speedboat roars... (full context)
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...a beaver, but as another big splash falls in front of him, Norman realizes that Paul is raining down rocks on his side of the river, annoyed that Norman is catching... (full context)
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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 says... (full context)
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...strikes, and his Bunyan Bug fly no longer seems so appealing. He looks across at Paul, who now is fishing over the water he’d just finished. This is rare enough that... (full context)
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Norman tells Paul to say what he means. Paul says that he first noticed on this hole that... (full context)
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Norman catches two more, even though he’s on Paul’s side of the river: with ten, he quits, since the last three were the finest... (full context)
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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 Greek on the bank,... (full context)
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...river, there are words beneath the water. Norman says this is because he’s a preacher: Paul would say that words are made from water. But his father says that the water... (full context)
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Paul appears on the river and holds up two fingers, meaning he has two fish left... (full context)
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Norman’s father, looking out at Paul, says there must be a big one where he’s casting, just around a rock iceberg... (full context)
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...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 water, and then is pulled... (full context)
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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 fitting that they... (full context)
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...out overexposed and amateurish. There is one picture, however, that remains fixed in Norman’s mind: Paul is smiling, flies whizzing around his hatband, water streaming down his face. Norman remembers him... (full context)
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Norman’s father, who is shy in praise, tells Paul that he is a fine fisherman. Paul replies that he’ll need three more years to... (full context)
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As they pack up, Paul repeats that he just needs three more years. Later Norman realizes that the river must... (full context)
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...they drive together down the Continental Divide and the Blackfoot to tell his parents that Paul had been beaten to death and his body dumped in an alley. Norman’s mother returns... (full context)
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...news, his father asks for more information. Norman says that nearly all the bones in Paul’s right hand were broken. After Paul’s death, Norman’s father begins to have trouble walking, and... (full context)
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Once Norman’s father asks if Norman thinks he (the father) could have helped Paul. Norman responds, “Do you think I could have helped him?” They both stand waiting, in... (full context)