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Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues COURTESY OF DANIEL WALLACE

“ I thought of him suddenly, and simply, as a boy, a child, a youth, with his whole life ahead of him, much as mine was ahead of me. . . . And these images – the now and then of my father – converged, and at that moment he turned into a weird creature, wild, concurrently young and old, dying and newborn. My father became a myth.” —Big Fish

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quest: he wants to be remembered. He knows he is dying, and like all people, he wonders if his life has had an impact or if he will be forgotten soon after he dies. Passing on the elaborate tales to his son – William will repeat these fabrications – will help him live on. A few lines later, Edward whispers to his son, “I wanted to be a great man” but admits that he’s not sure what the prerequisites are for being such a man (21). This, too, is part of Edward’s quest – not just to be remembered, but to be remembered as a great man. It is here that William has his finest moment as a son. He realizes what his father wants, and rather than withholding the compliment, he gives his father exactly what he needs as he is dying:

“I think,” I say after a while, waiting for the right words to come, “that if a man could be said to be loved by his son, then I think that man could be considered great.” For this is the only power I have, to bestow upon my father the mantle of greatness, a thing he sought in the wider world, but one that, in a surprise turn of events, was here at home all along. “Ah,” he says, “those parameters,” he says, stumbling over the word, all of a sudden seeming slightly woozy. “Never thought about it in those terms, exactly. Now that we are, though, thinking about it like that, I mean, in this case,” he says, “in this very specific case, mine – ” “Yeah,” I say. “You are hereby and forever after my father, Edward Bloom, a Very Great Man. So help you Fred.” (22) It is all Edward wants, all he has hoped to receive through his many stories and jokes. And he dies, as William explains, because “the world no longer held the magic that allowed him to live grandly within it” (166). Wallace admits that fathers and sons intrigue him: “It appears I am drawn to stories about father/son relationships.” His own father, he says, “was in many ways like the father in Big Fish – charming, but using that charm to keep others at bay” (Lundberg). It is a topic that has been rare in American literature. In “Where are the Fathers in American Literature?: Re-visiting Fatherhood in U.S. Literary History,” Josep M. Armengol-Cabrera acknowledges that “[m]ost canonical authors appear to avoid dealing with the issue of fatherhood, which thus remains largely absent from American literature.” He goes on to describe the typical American hero, a description that sounds a great deal like

ABOVE Characters in Edward’s stories

waving to him in Big Fish, including the circus ringmaster, played by Danny DeVito

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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