The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

It’s about a fisherman, and his wife that are living very humbly by the ocean. And uh … one day the fisherman goes down to the ocean and uh .. he uh .. casts his hook into the ocean and he catches a golden fish. And this fish, when it’s caught by the fisherman says, “Listen, if you let me go I’ll give you anything you want”. This is a Russian folktale. And the fisherman says, “Well, let me consult with my wife”. And so what he does is he goes back, and uh … he asks his wife what she would want, and she says she really wants a trough. You know what a trough is, it’s like a vessel almost. It’s a vessel made out of wood. A very humble request. And the fisherman says to the fish, “All we want is a trough. My wife just wants a trough to put stuff in, maybe flour or vegetables or something”. And the fish says, “No problem, no problem”. And so the fisherman goes back home and there’s this beautiful brand new trough uhh … in front of his wife. Now this repeats, because the fisherman, this is all folktale, he catches that fish again at another date down the line. And the fish says, “You know, listen, please let me go. Whatever you want I will provide”. And so he consults with his wife again and the wife says, “Hey, you know this is a big opportunity, I like, I like a new house. You know this hovel we’re living in doesn’t do it”. This progresses, the fisherman keeps going back and it goes from the trough, to a new house, and then it translates or devolves into something even bigger than a new house like a new cow or something like that. And he keeps going back to the fish, and he catches it, and finally the wife says, “Hey listen, I would like to be, … I think our wish should be that I should be the Queen of Russia”. They call it Tsaritsa. And the fish says …, the uhh fisherman goes back after he catches the fish, and sure enough the fish is tired of all these requests. There are many of them, they keep escalating. And uh he says uh .. “Just go back home, and your wife will get what she deserves”. And so he goes back and she’s in the same miserable state … as the uh inception of the story, because she had overextended her requests.

Background: This informant’s family is from Russia and he grew up in the US. He eventually taught Russian at a university. This piece is an example he has come across after studying Russian folk belief.

Interpretation: This story shows both the value in compassion, and that you should not be greedy. The fisherman is initially rewarded for showing kindness, it is only when he abuses this ability to get rewarded does he have all his rewards taken away. It also might say something about the right to the crown as that is the wish that breaks the camel’s back as it were. Basically the story warns against taking advantage of others and doing good out of greed instead out of kindness.