The Fisherman and his Wife is a tale that has been told many times all to illustrate how one can be too greedy and reach to far. Sometimes you have to find your happiness closer to home.
Once upon a time there was a fisherman. He was at the sea fishing. The sea was a nice green/blue color and it rolled gently. He wasn’t having a lot of luck with the day’s fishing. He finally caught a flounder, but it turns out, this was no ordinary flounder. This flounder could speak.
The flounder told the fisherman that he was really a prince and he asked to be let go. The fisherman complied, who in their right mind would keep a talking fish?
The man went back home to his wife, fishless, where the two lived in a pig sty.
Let me interject here, living in a pig sty isn’t that uncommon. Throughout history people have regularly lived in the same building with their animals. What this story describes as a pig sty is simply a hut where both people and the pigs lives. It probably had a dirt floor and no insulation whatsoever.
The woman asked the man how he day had went. He told her that he didn’t catch anything but a talking flounder and he had let it go. The woman asked the man why he hadn’t asked the flounder for a favor. She told him to go back to the fish and ask for a hut to live in instead of a pig sty.
The man goes back and he says:
“Flounder, flounder in the sea;Come, I pray thee, here to me;For my wife, good Ilsabil,WIlls not as I’d have her will”
By this time the sea is a little choppy. This guy isn’t scared though, he’s used to seeing the sea in all of its moods. The fish appears. The man tells the fish that his wife wants a hut. The fish tells him to go home and that she has it already.
The man goes home to find a rather nice hut. There are separate rooms and all the furnishings are quite nice. The two are happy for a week or two, but the wife decides she wants more. She tells her husband to go back to the fish because she wants a castle.
The man goes back to the sea, which has become darker and even more choppy. The sky is ominous and waves are crashing on the shore. The man repeats his fish-calling rhyme. The fish appears again. The man tells the fish that his wife wants a castle. The fish says, “Go home, she has it already.”
The man goes home and sees that his wife has a castle. There are generous furnishings and servants all around. The wife is happy for an even shorter amount of time than before. She asks her husband to go back to the fish and ask the fish to make her king.
The man goes back to the sea, which is even more turbulent. The sky is darker. The waves are stronger. The man calls to the fish again with his rhyme. The fish appears once more and the man says that his wife wants to be king. The fish says, “Go home, she is king already.”
The man goes home to find that it is true. The queen has her rule over many people, but already, she is dissatisfied. She tells her husband to go back to the fish because she wants to be emperor. The man is a bit doubtful if the fish can actually do this, but he goes back anyway.
The sea is raging and it’s all kinds of strange colors. The sky is dark. The man calls out to the fish again with his rhyme. He tells the fish that his wife wants to be emperor. The fish says, “Go home, she is emperor already.” The man goes home to find that his wife is the emperor and princes and kings are bowing to her, but she has changed her mind again. She wants to be the pope.
Yet again, the man finds himself back at the sea, which is even more violent. Waves are crashing. There are dark clouds in the sky. The wind is strong. The man calls to the fish again with his rhyme. The man tells the fish that his wife wants to be pope. The fish says, “Go home, your wife is pope already.” The man goes home and sees that it’s true. The wife is the pope. She lives in a great church and wears many pope-ly vestments. The man makes a remark that surely she must be satisfied because there is nothing above a pope that she could be. The woman sleeps on this thought.
The next day she tells her husband to go back to the fish. She tells him that she wants to be like God. The man argues with her and says, surely the fish cannot do this. Surely, the wife cannot do this. The man tries to reason with his wife, you can’t be God. She just gets angry and she rips her bodice(what kind of a pope is this woman?). The man finally decides, ok, ok, I’m going to talk to the fish.
The man goes to the see again. The sea is practically black. There are large waves crashing on the shore. The sky is dark. The wind is blowing so hard he can barely stand. He looks in the distance and sees two ships in a battle against each other upon the sea. He calls to the fish with his rhyme.
The fish is kind of miffed by this point. The man tells the fish what his wife wants. The fish says, “Go home, you will have your sty again.” The man goes home, and finds that he has his wife and his sty back. The two lived this way for the rest of their lives.
Notice that this tale breaks our pattern of three. There is no three in this tale.
There is also some sexism in this tale. Why wouldn’t there be? This tale was created in a time when women were definitely considered the inferior race. You must notice that it’s the woman who is asking for everything and the man is quite content to live in a pig sty. Kudos for being humble, but also not kudos for being a dork who doesn’t want to progress forward in life. Here’s the thing, no matter what your circumstances in life are upon your birth, it is your job, your responsibility, and your right to try to get ahead in the world. You’re not supposed to be living in the same single-wide trailer your teenage mother brought you home to when you are thirty-five years old. Get a life and learn to make something of yourself.
The man in this tale, while humble, irritates me. He’s not just supposed to be happy living in a pig sty. That’s not to say you can’t be happy living in a pig sty, you totally could, but who wants to do that? Nobody wants to do that. People don’t want to live in pig sties.
I’m sick of every time we tell this tale having people fall all over themselves about how humble and obedient the husband was. You know what…he needs to grow up and get a real job.
This tale does kind of bend gender roles a bit. We have the wife becoming king, emperor and the pope. While, there was a time when there was supposedly a female pope, it’s not really a thing. Women are not the pope. Women don’t become the king, they become the queen. There have been empresses though, but not women who were the emperor. These ruling titles are still very much gender related. We still don’t use the title ‘king’ interchangeably for a man or a woman. Should we? I don’t know, maybe we should adopt another named convention. The woman is also clearly the party ruling this relationship, while back in the day, it was generally the man who did this.
When you are you men going to learn that the woman rules everything in the relationship? Forget about who is wearing the pants, because your wife is wearing the pants. Forget you have pants.
Also, flounders totally have two eyes on one side of their heads. I don’t know why that makes them so magical. It kind of freaks me out.
Notice that the woman wants to become pope for her next to last request. Why is this? Why is pope greater than emperor? Well, back in the day, pope was greater than emperor. If the pope did not like your reign, he could totally depose you. Popes weren’t the benevolent grandfatherly types back in the day. It’s just been recently that popes have decided to clean up their acts and be pious, peaceful and celibate. Before that all kinds of debauchery was going down at the papal palaces.
The elephant in the room is, of course, that you shouldn’t over-reach yourself. You have to learn to find happiness with wherever you are instead of always thinking about some ‘couldhavebeen’ or ‘couldbe.’ I agree with this sentiment to an extent. It is true that you should strive to find happiness wherever you are, but it is not true that you should always do so. Remember how I mentioned the fact that you shouldn’t live in the same single-wide trailer your mother brought you home to? Remember that? It was only a few paragraphs ago. We are supposed to strive to do better in life. That’s how we work as human beings.
Lead, follow, or get out of the way, seriously. Yes, I am well aware that there are people who simply like their lives the way they are. That’s fine. You can be happy how ever in the heck you want to. Most of us like the idea of progressing to something else in life. We want a different house. We want a better job. We want to publish a book. We want to become an actor. We want to be the president. You know, just whatever. If everyone was like the fisherman in this tale, no one would ever be president. The best thing about the fisherman in this tale is that he is very good at following. We need people who follow in life, but as intellectuals, we generally aren’t those kind of people.
Mythbusters=not followers. Presidents=not followers. Great artists=not followers. Actors/actresses=not followers. Wonderful authors=not followers. Musicians=not followers. Great scientists=not followers. Einstein=not a follower. Abraham Lincoln=not a follower. Martin Luther King Jr. =not a follower.
Are you seeing a pattern? All these people whom we admire were never followers; they also didn’t get out-of-the-way. They made things happen.
Honestly, if the wife in this tale had no over-reached herself, I think she could have made a very good king or emperor. She had this belief and faith in herself that she could do this. That takes some guts.
I don’t know, after thinking about this tale, I kind of feel sorry for this woman. Here she is wanting to be freaking awesome, but she lives in a pig sty with her fisherman husband who doesn’t even come home with one single fish. Where’s the fish? I didn’t catch any. That’s what you said yesterday. Yeah, well I didn’t catch any fish yesterday either. Were you out drinking on the boat again. No. *mumble mumble*
We only get part of this story. Maybe the wife had had it. Maybe she was all like, “Well, if he’s not going to bring home the bacon, I guess I’m going to have to do it myself. For crying out loud, we live with the bacon, he doesn’t even have to bring it home. I need some money for flour and stuff. He hasn’t brought home a fish in a week. I’m tired of fantasizing about these pigs turning into savory bacon every minute of the day,” Maybe she saw this fish as an opportunity to put on the pants in her family and keep them.
Getting back to over-reaching yourself, it happens. We can be too ambitious. We can move too fast too soon. It doesn’t have to involve career moves, it can involve all sorts of aspects of life. We could move too fast in a relationship. We could move too fast as far as financial investments. We could move too fast in concerns to how we raise our children. We can simply try to do too much too fast. We’ve all done it, well at least those of us who have motivation have done it. We see this big picture in the end and we don’t think about all the hurdles along the way that will definitely trip us up.
I once sold insurance; it sucked. You can make a lot of money selling insurance, but it sucks. It sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, and sucks some more. It’s not fun and it makes you feel like a vulture waiting to swoop down and prey upon people’s worries.
My point about insurance is that they show you this big picture and they’re like, “Oh yeah, you could totally make this happen. It’s like a one-hundred percent possibility.” Then you get there and you realize that everything sucks and you might actually be able to get to that point, but you would have to sell you soul to the devil and learn how to juggle on the street corner to get spare change while you’re learning to become the vulture you need to be to reach the top.
Over-reaching ourselves is a part of being human. We have stories like this to remind us that we should be careful in our reaching. We can go too far.
You know what sounds good right now…flounder. Fry it in the pan with some lemon, pepper and butter. Oh that would be delightful right now, I’m hungry. That darn fish would have ended up on my plate. Maybe the smarter solution for all of this would have been for the man to ask the fish for a bountiful haul of fish every single day so he could start his own fishing empire like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.. We know our fisherman wouldn’t have done that though, he lacked the motivation.