Religious Experience in The River Why


ReligiousExperience in The River Why

Religionis the aspect of life that is tasked with providing answers andexplanations for life phenomenon that human beings find mysterious.For most human beings, religion is taken as the ultimate solution toall the problems and experiences that people face on the day to daylife. The experience of religion is different depending on the socialand economic viewpoints of people and the experiences they face. Thedifferent perception of religion introduces different definitions ofGod depending on the experiences of different people. Taking theanalogy of God as a “fisherbeing” to define Him, this paper willexplore the experiences of the main character, Gus in the novel “TheRiver Why.”

Gus’Religious Experience

Religiousexperiences of Gus as presented in the novel are based on his lifeevents and his narration. Through the experience of the metaphors,parables and stories presented in his narration as well as hispersonal events, Gus illustrates the religious experiences that guidehis beliefs. His first experience with religion comes when hedescribes how he learns from the parents. He learns religion andreligious issues through from the beliefs and experiences of hisparents. Having been brought up in a fishing family, his firstelements of religious experiences are reflected by his learning offishing from his parents. This means that most of the religiousexperiences that Gus learns in his life, comes through fishing.

Gusexperiences his first religious encounter through the reading of thebook he called the “family Bible” at his young age. The book, TheCompleat Angler,forms the bases through which he starts a philosophical perspectiveof his life on religion. The book frustrates him as he tries tofigure out the aspects of the “God of Nature” as portrayed by thecontent of his family bible (Duncan, 1983). Therefore, as a way offinding happiness, he decides to indulge himself into doing what heis obsessed with, fishing. Through fishing, he finds another activitythat is meant to soothe his unexplained religious philosophy.However, fishing takes him to another level of religious experiencesas he seeks to blend the differences of his parents in terms offishing.

Gusbegins by bringing to the attention of the reader the differentviewpoints he faces in his life as he narrates his parents’ fishingstyles. The difference in the viewpoints of the parents reflectstheir character and personalities as well as the influence ofreligion on their personality. According to Gus, the mother isconservative to the bait fishing as she feels it is the best way tofish (Duncan, 1983). This presents her tender character and believesthat the best way to approach life is through soft ways. On the otherhand, his father believes on the fly fishing, which reflects hispersonality as well as his character as influenced by religion. Thispresents a need for personal believe by Gus, who decided to formulatehis own life based on his experience.

Anotherreligious experience that Gus encounters from his parents relates tothe complex issue of life, death and mortality. According to hisfather’s wisdom on the issue, life and death were abstractions tobe perceived in a scientific light (Duncan, 1983). However, Gusexplores more information on the topic when he spends time with Titusas he recovers from the river incident that left him spiritually,emotionally and physiologically ill. The learning of religiousaspects leaves him asking for more information from Titus, as heappreciates the river, asking the question “why” (Duncan, 21983).

Anothermain element of gus’s early religious experience is the reflectionof his name. His name is a short form of Augustine, an earlyChristian leader and a theologian. This inspires his religiousbeliefs and perspectives as seen in his character’s parallelaspects with St. Augustine. For instance, Gus has a very strongmemory as he remembers all the experiences he has on the water mass,such as all the fish he catches. In addition, just like St.Augustine, Gus portrays a lot of religious philosophy or questioningexperiences from a religious perspective. For instance, when he loseshis friend, pet fish, he engages in a lengthy inquisitive moments.

Furtherreligious experiences of Gus are brought up when he portrays hisphilosophical questioning of God after the death of Alfred, his pet.The events of the confessions after the death of Alfred match thehistorical experience of st. Augustine. Just like St. Augustine, hislife is turned around by the death of his friend (Duncan, 1983).According to the initial understanding of goals, god behaves like asfisherbeing who fishes his best friend, Alfred. Through hisinquisitive nature, Gus reveals the mystery of death from thereligious perspective by seeking to understand why it had to happenthat way. His meditation on the events presents his desire toestablish more information on the God that he learns through suchliterature.

Thedepiction of a god as the fisherbeing illustrates the best waythrough which Gus establishes to explore through fishing. Even thoughhe does not know that his fishing will lead him to further religiousexperiences, Gus takes on fishing as a way of finding happiness inhis obsession. Through his fishing, Gus experiences the aspects ofgod in his fishing. By finding the differences of life in terms offishing styles, Gus explores the two styles of fishing in differentways. Instead of choosing one, Gus ensures that he fishes using eachof the methods as a way of blending the religious tenderness offishing with the cruelty of death (Duncan, 1983).

Accordingto him, there is no reason for killing a fish for no reason. This isdepicted when he laments the death of his friend Alfred as his pet.The philosophy that matches with this thinking is that of hismother’s style of bait fishing. This style is based on the thoughtthat fish should be caught for food and not at a sporting event. Flyfishing is presented as a cruel way of fishing, especially by thefather who does it as a sport and to enjoy the artistry aspect of thestyle (Snyder, 2007). Therefore, fly fishing is not an experience ofthe religious nature as described (Snyder, 2007). However, Gus opensup to a new world of appreciating natural happens as he finds a newlove after the death of his friend.

Afterthe death of his friend Alfred, Gus is not just concerned with thedeath of his loved pet, but also the death and suffering of his otherfriends. Taking the aspect of the god as the “fisherbeing,” Gusunderstands that fishing is godly, but the bad way of fishing is whatagainst the religious perspectives. It is through such perspectivesthat gus looks back at the problems he has caused to the fish that hehas been killing. According to Duncan (1983), Gus sees all the timethat he has spent fishing at the time of killing. He considers thesituation that would arise if all the fish that he has killed wouldreturn to haunt him. In a religious way, Gus views this eventualityin a different way by meditating the suffering of the fish andrelating it to that of people.

Afterrealizing the extents of the suffering done to fish and extending itto reflect the people, Gus retreats to find a new way of comfortinghimself in wine. He drinks port wine in significant amounts wine totry and forget, but finds even more questions when he sets out tofish the next morning. He experiences the reality of death when heencounters the dead Abe while on the river fishing, which leaves himin near death situation. As he recovers alongside Titus, he learns alot of the religious aspects of life from the religious philosopher.Through his learning of immortality and related religious concerns,Gus discovers knowledge that makes what his parents knew to be“witless” instead of witness” (Duncan, 1983).


TakingGod as a “fisherbeing” presents a religion as relational aspectof life. Therefore, it is right to conclude that Gus’ experiencesare based on his relationship with nature through fishing. Gusexperiences, religious aspects at different times and with differentperspectives. While he was young, he learns from his parents variedways of viewing the things that matter to him depending on theirviewpoint. However, as he experiences life for himself, he not onlylearns different religious aspects, but also discovers ways ofdefining his life phenomenon.


Duncan,D. J. (1983). TheRiver Why?(San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books

Snyder,S. (2007). “New Streams of Consciousness: Fly Fishing as a LivedReligion of Nature,”Journal of the American Academy of Religion75, no. 4 (2007): 896-922