English 321 -- American Masterpieces
Grant T. Smith
A River Runs Through It -- Essay Questions


·   Think of the archetypal American hero, e.g., Captain John Smith, The Deerslayer, Daniel Boone, Buffalo Bill, Davy Crockett, Jeremiah Johnson, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood.List the masculine characteristics and behaviors you associate with these heroes.How does Paul live by and deviate from these codes of behavior?

·   List the important women in A River Runs Through It.How are these women characterized?What roles do they play in the men’s lives?What roles do they play in the society?What is your response to these women?

·   What destroys Paul?

·   There are a lot of stories about brother sin the Bible.Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers.How is A River Runs Through It a story about brothers, and what “story” does it tell?

·   Maclean says:“To my father, the highest commandment was to do whatever his sons wanted him to do, especially if it meant to go fishing” (79).Is this novella a revision of the Prodigal Son story?

·   Read Hemingway’s short story, “A Big Two-Hearted River”.How do the two stories compare?

·   Do you agree with the Reverend's orthodox view of man, "that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace…all good things come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy."How has your experience shaped your definitions of man, grace, and/or art?

·   Cite the codes of behavior that Norman and Paul live by in Montana.Does Norman deviate from the codes or re-write them?How does Neal violate the codes?

·   In his last "sermon" to Norman, the Reverend claims, "…you can love completely without complete understanding."Has this been true in your life?Are we always our brother's keeper?"What are the interrelationships between yourself and others?

·   A River Runs Through It is filled with great "proverbs."Discuss one that especially inspires you, surprises you, puzzles you, moves or touches you.