The Fisherman and His Soul

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Fisherman Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, the titular Fisherman accidentally catches the Mermaid in his net while fishing one evening. He is reluctant to let her go, only doing so on the condition that she return every day to sing for him in order to help him catch fish. Following this arrangement, it doesn’t take long for the Fisherman to fall in love with the Mermaid. Indeed, his love for her is so strong he is willing to give up his Soul in order to be with her, and he goes to great lengths to make this sacrifice. After he has managed to send away his Soul so that he can live with the Sea-folk, his Soul returns once a year and tries to tempt him with wisdom and riches, both of which the Fisherman resists. Ultimately, however, when the Soul describes a veiled girl dancing in bare feet in a nearby town, the Fisherman falls prey to carnal temptation. Having left the Mermaid to travel to see the dancing girl, he performs evil and cruel acts under instruction from his Soul. Unable to detach from his Soul a second time, he cannot return to the Mermaid. Though Wilde doesn’t state the Fisherman’s age, he is described as young and often behaves in an innocent or naïve way, as when he readily accepts that he must give up his soul, when he is tricked by the Witch into taking part in a Satanic ritual, and when commits the evil acts the Soul tells him to, only questioning them afterwards. However, he seems to finally realize the repercussions of his actions when the Sea-folk bring him the dead body of the Mermaid. The Fisherman drowns while clutching her corpse in despair. The end of the story suggests he has been forgiven and has been reunited with his love in death, as strange and beautiful flowers grow out of their unmarked grave.

The Fisherman Quotes in The Fisherman and His Soul

The The Fisherman and His Soul quotes below are all either spoken by The Fisherman or refer to The Fisherman. 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:
The Power of Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The Fisherman and His Soul published in 2012.
The Fisherman and His Soul Quotes

"Of what use is my soul to me? I cannot see lt. I may not touch it. I do not know it. Surely I will send it away from me, and much gladness shall be mine."

Related Characters: The Fisherman (speaker), The Soul, The Mermaid
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

“The love of the body is vile,” cried the Priest […] “and vile and evil are the pagan things God suffers to wander through His world. Accursed be the Fauns of the woodland, and accursed by the singers of the sea! They are lost […] For them there is no heaven or nor hell, and in neither shall they praise God’s name.”

Related Characters: The Priest (speaker), The Fisherman, The Mermaid
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Now when the young Fisherman heard the words of his Soul, he remembered that the little Mermaid had no feet and could not dance. And a great desire came over him, and he said to himself, "It is but a day's journey, and I can return to my love," and he laughed, and stood up in the shallow water, and strode towards the shore.

Related Characters: The Fisherman (speaker), The Soul, The Mermaid
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

“When thou didst send me forth into the world thou gavest me no heart, so I learned to do all these things and love them.”

Related Characters: The Soul (speaker), The Fisherman
Related Symbols: The Heart
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

And when he had robed himself with his robes, and entered in and bowed himself before the altar, he saw that the altar was covered with strange flowers that never had been seen before […] But the beauty of the white flowers troubled him, and their odour was sweet in his nostrils, and there came another word into his lips, and he spake not of the wrath of God, but of the God whose name is Love. And why he so spake, he knew not […] And in the morning […] he went forth […] and blessed the sea, and all the wild things that are in it […] All the things in God's world he blessed, and the people were filled with joy and wonder.

Related Characters: The Fisherman, The Mermaid, The Priest
Related Symbols: The Flowers
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Fisherman and His Soul LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Fisherman and His Soul PDF

The Fisherman Character Timeline in The Fisherman and His Soul

The timeline below shows where the character The Fisherman appears in The Fisherman and His Soul. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Fisherman and His Soul
The Power of Love Theme Icon
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
The young Fisherman goes out fishing every evening, and the success of his catch depends on which way... (full context)
The Power of Love Theme Icon
Christianity, Morality, and the Soul Theme Icon
Now the Fisherman catches a huge amount of fish every evening because the Mermaid comes to sing for... (full context)
The Power of Love Theme Icon
Christianity, Morality, and the Soul Theme Icon
Early the next morning, the Fisherman goes to the Priest and asks him how he can send away his soul so... (full context)
Christianity, Morality, and the Soul Theme Icon
The Fisherman now goes to the marketplace where he meets some merchants to whom he tries to... (full context)
Christianity, Morality, and the Soul Theme Icon
The Fisherman wanders to the shore and wonders what he should do. Remembering there is a young... (full context)
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
Christianity, Morality, and the Soul Theme Icon
That evening, the Fisherman climbs the mountain, and witches come flying through the air at midnight. When the young... (full context)
The Power of Love Theme Icon
Christianity, Morality, and the Soul Theme Icon
The Fisherman now makes his way toward the shore while his Soul calls out to him. At... (full context)
The Power of Love Theme Icon
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
The Soul returns a year later and calls the Fisherman to the shore. The Soul recounts his travels to the East where he obtained the... (full context)
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
...returns and describes an inn where a girl dances in her bare feet, telling the Fisherman that “the city in which she dances is but a day’s journey.” The Fisherman remembers... (full context)
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
The Fisherman and his Soul set out together and two days later come to a city. Although... (full context)
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
Transformation and the Doppelganger Theme Icon
The Fisherman asks the Soul why he told him to murder the merchant, saying “Surely thou art... (full context)
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
Transformation and the Doppelganger Theme Icon
The following morning, the Fisherman states that he will bind his hands and close his lips so that he cannot... (full context)
Temptation, Corruption, and Evil Theme Icon
Eventually, realizing that the Fisherman’s love for the Mermaid is stronger than evil, the Soul decides  “I will tempt him... (full context)
The Power of Love Theme Icon
As the Fisherman and the Soul realize the Soul cannot gain entry into the Fisherman’s heart, the Sea-folk... (full context)
The Power of Love Theme Icon
Transformation and the Doppelganger Theme Icon
Christianity, Morality, and the Soul Theme Icon
The next morning, the Priest comes down to bless the sea, but seeing the drowned Fisherman clutching the body of the little Mermaid, refuses to do so. He then tells the... (full context)