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The quote "Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it" is found in the final passage of Norman Maclean's autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It:

Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

What does he mean by "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it."?

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  • That passage has always made the hairs on my neck stand up.
    – Woz
    Sep 1, 2023 at 7:41

5 Answers 5

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The sentence you are asking about starts with “Eventually,” which indicates that it is a continuation of the action in the previous sentence. So we have:

in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River […] Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.

There is a double meaning here. First, as the twilight deepens, everything in the canyon disappears into the gloom (“all existence fades”) until the only things that the fisherman can sense are himself and the river (which he can hear). Eventually, “all things merge into one [thing]” (that is, into darkness), and a river runs through the darkness.

Second, the fisherman becomes so deeply absorbed in his activity that he loses all awareness of anything other than himself and the river. This deep absorption is indicated by the odd expression “a being with my soul and memories” instead of “myself” (indicating a kind of dissociation or out-of-body experience) and by the phrase “all things merge into one” (indicating that in his mind, there is no distinction between himself and the canyon and the activity of fishing). Hence when “the river runs through it” it runs (metaphorically) though the fisherman as well as (literally) through the canyon.

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It's talking about the town of Missoula Montana. "It" is Missoula.

The Blackfoot, Bitterroot and Clarkfork river all merge into one river near Missoula and it flows through town.

In the Blackfoot canyon, just a few miles outside Missoula the sun sets an hour and a half earlier than Missoula due to the tall steep mountains surrounding the narrow canyon, the canyon was carved out of the rocks by glacier lake Missoula. The sun's gone two or more hours before dark, similar to the long twilight of the arctic. When the sun goes down, the temperature drops fast and the fish start rising.

This is all very literal.

The Movie ruined Missoula, way too many people Migrated here because of the Movie alone. And just in case you are thinking about moving here, Montana is full, winter starts in September and ends in June, sometimes July. If that's not enough to keep you away, the woods are full of ravenous Grizzly bears and wolves. So many that 1 in 5 tourists are eaten by them. The remaining 4 are taken out by bison.

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jul 12, 2022 at 10:31
  • There's a place for humour in answers, but I think "So many that 1 in 5 tourists are eaten by them. The remaining 4 are taken out by bison" takes that way too far. In fact your final paragraph is entirely irrelevant to the question, and should be deleted. In any case, your mundane interpretation does a disservice to Maclean's depth of meaning and poetic expression. Perhaps an edit might reflect the literary rather than the mere literal? ;-) Jul 19, 2022 at 3:34
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It is about how God exists within it all. His father preached about having a purpose, which neither of the boys could understand. But at the end of his life, Maclean (like a lot of us) came to understand that the purpose of life is life itself, and that your place in the world is determined by some higher power, and THAT is the river that runs through it all.

Being "haunted" by waters is his way of saying he cannot understand it all because it is impossible to know the mind of God.

It is beautiful in its simplicity, and yet tragic in its reminder that none of us can ever fully understand the events that form our lives or our purpose within it. All we can do is love.

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Like the river that eventually flows into the ocean, we, too, are all connected to our loved ones, those long gone, to our ancestors, and to our future generations. Being alone on the river and melding into the rhythmic count of the act of fishing in the late afternoon light is symbolic of the author’s twilight years. Here he can remember all the things his loved ones have said and remember them fondly.

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    Could you explain why this interpretation makes particular sense?
    – bobble
    Jan 15 at 4:46
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The whole last paragraph is a metaphor for MacLean’s life, and the place that fly fishing has had in it. He is “haunted by waters” and the memories of what he experienced in them, with both his father and his brother.

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