USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Brothers Grimm’
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Fisherman and His Wife

Text:

Informant: So anyways, it’s something to the effect of, I don’t remember it very well but it was, it was part of a theater thing that we did and apparently it’s a very old story where, like a fisherman catches like some magic fish that, he and his wife were kind of down on their luck, and the fisherman catches a magic fish and the magic fish gives him a wish every time he catches it, but the fish doesn’t like being caught. So, he gets, he gets them like I don’t know, just kind of enough to feed themselves for like however long they want to be fed because they were kind of born destitute and like need it. And he gets it. And then his wife starts to ask for like, more and more and starts to live a more and more lavish lifestyle, so every day he goes back and catches the fish and wishes for some new thing and the, and eventually the fish just gets fed up with it and takes everything away. And it’s kind of, I don’t know if I would call it, yeah sad, I guess it’s a little bit sexist because it’s one of those like “women are gold diggers” or whatever. That’s basically what the message of it is, but I guess in a larger sense, in just relating to the audience members regardless of gender, it’s just “don’t ask for too much” and “don’t get, don’t get caught up in wanting more when you already have everything you need.”

Context: The informant learned this story from a theater group in New Jersey, where he was told that it was a theater story. It had been passed down from other actors. This story was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1809 (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Von dem Fischer un syner FruKinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (Berlin, 1857), no. 19.). That said, it likely has origins outside of the New Jersey theater community.

Analysis: I tend to agree with the second analysis given by the informant, with the sentiment of “don’t ask for too much.” While it is technically the wife’s desire to have more, that doesn’t mean that the husband isn’t also wanting the same things. At the same time, I also feel like the tale could show how hard work and persistence can lead to getting your goals (at least before they are taken away). Essentially, the idea is to know when one is successful enough to stop taking advantage of others to garner more success when it’s unnecessary. Overall, the idea of complacency and assuming that you can keep all good things is a theme of the tale that resonates with me, especially because of the emphasis on capitalist ideals in America.

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