Representation of Death in Big Fish and Its Movie Adaptation Term Paper

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myth in Daniel Wallace's Big Fish is particularly what allows Edward Bloom to keep other people in his life at a distance. By stretching the events of his life into tall tales, Edward was able to create an identity for himself that was more noteworthy or memorable than the objective facts that typified his existence. However, Edward's son, Will, is called home to reconcile with his father has he nears death; though one of his true motivations is to separate myth from reality once and for all. Essentially, this is the emotional setting of the story: Will believes that if he can divine the facts of his father's life from the myths, then he will somehow be closer to him and understand him before his death. Yet, as he uncovers more of the inspirations for Edward's tall tales, he comes to realize that the fictional stories he's been told his whole life are more true to the character of his father than a straightforward telling of them ever could have been. Consequently, Will learns that in order to tell the story of his father's death, he must call upon the myths that gave it meaning.

The book Big Fish is rather more convincing than the film adaptation with respect to the representation of Edward Bloom's death. This is because the competing takes on how the death came about reveal a more intricate progression of Will's understanding of his father. At first, William only sees the stories that his father tells him as ways to keep intimacy at bay. When Edward tells his son about how a local panhandler claimed that he owed him money, Will responds, "That's funny"; to which Edward states, "Well, laughter is the best medicine," even though neither one of them were laughing (Wallace, 18). This is within Will's first attempt at relaying the events of his father's death; it is significant that at this point he cannot even embrace the humor that exists within Edward's stories. Fundamentally, this is because Will is holding onto the hope that the underlying truth about how his father lived his life should come out at his end. So, when he recognizes that his father's story is funny, but he cannot laugh at it, this is a consequence of his disappointment that Edward seems to refuse to abandon his own fictional tales.

Nevertheless, even within the first adaptation of his father's death, Edward still supplies one of the driving themes that will continue throughout the story: "Remembering a man's stories makes him immortal." (Wallace, 20). Initially, Will disagrees and Edward is not even sure that this statement is true either. From Will's point-of-view, his father's explanations of how he failed as a father are mere exaggerations to make it seem as if there was no element of choice in him not being home very much. Edward tells his son that the earth splitting and natural disasters prevented him from being the father he should have been; but then, he admits that one of the things he most centrally wanted was to be a "great man." (Wallace, 21). Obviously, this comes as no surprise to Will, but it does partially explain the root of the tall tales. So overall, the first take on Edward's death is steeped in Will's version of objective reality; he believes it should be this way if there is to be any tangible aspect of his father that can be represented. The humor of Edward's stories has vanished, the greatness of his life has been wiped away, and all that remains is a scaly old man slowly losing his faculties.

In the second interpretation of his father's death, Edward's point about jokes becomes a bit more forceful. Will still doubts that any of his stories or jokes amount to anything; he wishes that he had known the foundations of his father's belief system. However, Edward -- like most people -- possesses doubts about the infinite. Accordingly, he states, "Still, if I shared my doubts with you, about God and love and life and death, that's all you'd have: a bunch of doubts. But now see, you've got all these great jokes." (Wallace, 73). The fact that Edward's dying word in this version is the punch-line to his joke suggests that Will's insistence upon deep intimacy is partially giving way to the realization that his father's myths and jokes were, in fact, a form of intimacy.

Death is repeatedly represented as being the end sum of all the stories that an individual has accumulated throughout their life. The point that Edward wants to impress upon his son is that these stories can be virtually whatever you want. He notes that people routinely forget the cold hard facts of their lives and those around them; people almost subconsciously augment the stories of their lives into something more preferable. Additionally, even when people try to get the facts straight they usually fail. So, Edward argues, "We all have stories, just as you do. Ways in which he touched us, gave us jobs, lent us money, sold it to us wholesale. Lots of stories, big and small. They all add up." (Wallace, 139). Every story adds up, to Edward, no matter how mundane it is; the task then becomes, to make them lively enough so that they are remembered. This is because if they are remembered, then you are remembered.

It is significant that in both the film and the novel, the story of Edward's life -- if it were told linearly -- unfolds like a Homeric Odyssey. The elemental qualities of a mythological story are followed in the creation of Edward Bloom as an epic hero. In the world of mythology, geography and climate tend to play a major role in determining specifically what kind of spiritual forces act upon any particular group of people. This should not be surprising considering the functional role of mythology: to explain the otherwise unexplainable. Mountains, rivers, seas, forests, and fantastic creatures are just as mysterious and incomprehensible as the stars and the planets in many respects. Acting upon the geography -- in many cases -- is the climate. Weather subjects these geographical objects to many extremes and wide varieties of forces across the world. Edward follows the framework developed by Homer in his battle against geographical and insurmountable forces which keep him away from home and test his moral fiber. Edward makes this notion explicit when he says, "There's a time when a man needs to fight and a time when he needs to accept that his destiny's lost, the ship has sailed and that only a fool will continue. The truth is I've always been a fool." (Burton 2004).

Still, this creation of Edward as a hero must -- from Will's perspective -- be tempered with the concrete realities of his father's life. Edward, like Odysseus, is a peculiar mix of both heroic and intelligent qualities that make him seem both human and supernatural. To his son, he must be seen as an ordinary human being, but the ordinary aspects of his life are obscured by the tall tales that they are subjected to. The consequence of recognizing that mythical heroes are required to live through tribulations and do great deeds is that they must then, necessarily, hold to particular principles or codes of conduct.

If Edward were to merely allow fate to take its course, to be pushed around by the gods and man, he would not be noteworthy -- his actions would be almost predefined. Therefore, it is important that he struggles against the forces around him, even if this means he must act in manners that are less than admirable. Clearly, the surest way to provide characters with a free will is to contrast their principles with their circumstances. Edward, obviously like Odysseys, must fight to return home; in so doing he becomes great through his feeble struggles, and by holding fast to his core principles.

However, the constant specter that looms over the telling of Edward's experiences is his impending death. Edward sees his future in the eye of the old woman, and while the other boys also see their future, Edward's is not frightening as theirs its. Wallace writes, "And one screamed at what he saw there, and one cried, but one merely looked deeply into the eye uncomprehending, then looked up at my father and stared, as if he knew him now in a different way." (Wallace, 63). This is an important event, and it is represented well in the film; the particular manner of Edward's death is not truly revealed; it is only suggested that it has some peculiar quality to it. Although the first four attempts that Will makes at trying to represent the nature of his father's death adhere somewhat to reality, the final one ultimately captures the strange quality that the story of the eye would suggest.

In the end Will realizes that in order for him to adequately tell the…

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