Comparative Analysis: A River Runs Through It

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The novel "A River Runs Through It" by Norman Maclean and the film adaptation directed by Robert Redford deal with a variety of subjects, the primary ones being religion, family, and the environment. The creators of both the movie and the literature demonstrate that by adhering to a natural way of life, the people in the text and the movie were able to protect their environment from contamination and exploitation. Many issues are explored by the author and filmmaker that appear to support the people's way of life and how it has assisted them in maintaining their environment (Redford). Several literary devices have been used in both the film and the book to assist in the narration of the story.

First, it is imperative to understand the movie by Robert Redford was based on the text by Norman Maclean. Norman wrote this text as an elegy to his dear brother Paul hence the text appears to be like an autobiography. In the film, the concept of an autobiography is also adopted by having a voice that narrates the story from Norman Maclean perspective. In both the movie and the text, the story is set in the early 20th century in Montana (Maclean 12). However, it can address some of the environmental issues that are facing the world currently. Several environmental problems are facing the world currently which can be addressed by the text and the film.

Environmental Issues have become rampant in the recent years. The growth in environmental problems can be attributed to the change in the way of life of people in the modern days. Using the text and the film several environmental issues that can be addressed. First, depletion of natural resources. An important theme of the book is nature. From the book and the movie, the Maclean brothers were made to understand the importance of nature by their father. Their father who was a preacher explained to them that God is the creator of the world hence he was in every aspect of the natural world (Gottlieb 52). As a result, the boys considered landscape and Montana hills the refuge for their souls where they would go with their father to get purified. They believed that by investing their time in the beautiful nature around them, they were becoming closer to God. Therefore, religion and nature were in unity and made Norman and his brother Paul tough but moral in their actions.

However, in the current world, a majority of the population way of life is not influenced by religion. For instance, according to Bullard (para 12), the total population of the United States with 46 percent being males and 66 percent being whites. Out of these 68 percent, atheists are men, and 78 percent of them are white. The numbers show a growing population of non-religion individuals in the world. These people do not believe in God and his creations hence most of them tend to go against the natural needs of the world. In the text, due to their religious way of life, Norman and his brother learned to understand and respect nature (Maclean 13). They would observe the natural way of life which made them protect the environment by practicing safe use of the natural resources. For instance, when they went fishing they practiced fly fishing which does not harm the natural way of life of the fish. Atheists do not care about God, so they do not respect the natural way of life. As a result, they may get involved in harmful environmental practices hence the increase in depletion of natural resources in the world (Redford).

Pollution is another environmental issue that is facing the current world. The current level of air and water pollution will take millions of years to recoup. Most of the pollution result from industrial processes and motor vehicles (Dunlap 22). Heavy metal and oil spill that pollutes soil and water respectively are among the many other forms of pollution that have resulted from the change in the way of life of the people in the world. Unlike in the past, many people currently rely heavily on industrial activities for their day to day activities and motor vehicles for transportation. Currently, over 1 billion motor vehicles are available in the world today which increases the carbon footprint that pollutes the air (Tencer para.3).

Pollution is an environmental issue that results from the change of the way of life of people that can be addressed using the movie and the text “A River Runs Through It.” By analyzing the way of life of characters in the book and the film, we can be able to understand how pollution has increased in the world. Additionally, there are some aspects of the text and the film that show ways in which people in the texts polluted the environment contributing to the current pollution status of the world.

In the book, Norman explains that he boarded the Northern Pacific train when he was going to college. The statement by Norman shows that the common means of transportation for people in the text was the train. As per the text when people were traveling either to or way from Western Montana, they will use the train for their transportation as it was the case with Norman when going to college. Additionally, when Neal Burns’ Jessie brother comes to Montana to visit his family, he came using a train. The use of trains as a means of transportation reduced the number of motor vehicles that were owned by the people. As a result, the carbon footprint was not as big as the current one. However, from the text, Norman notes that they would enjoy smoking when they were with their friends. The smokes that resulted from smoking can be argued to have caused pollution of the air (Maclean 32).

From the film, the standard mode of transportation is the train. However, there are several motor vehicles owned by people of the town. For instance, Paul had a motor vehicle which he used to pick Norman up with whenever they went out for drinking. Although there are several motor vehicles in the film, each family in the family tends to have one vehicle, unlike the current situation where a family can have up to 4 vehicles which they use simultaneously. The limitation of the number of automobiles in the film reduces the carbon footprint that was being released in the air. Additionally, air pollution in the movie can be evidenced from the constant smoking that the boys especially Paul indulged themselves (Redford).

The way of life of the people both in the movie and in the text limited the mode of transport to train primary means of transportation. However, motor vehicles were used for ferry people within Western Montana and families that had them were limited to only 1. The limitation of the number of automobiles was not a law but a way of life of the people. In the text and the movie, a family is valued as part of the flow of life in Western Montana (Maclean 33). Although there were several instances of air pollution in both the film and the text, the people way of life tried to reduce the impact and causes of pollution as much as possible. Therefore, the Western Montana way of life that Norman and Paul lived by helped in minimizing contamination in the setting compared to the current world way of life which promotes excessive pollution of the environment.

Another environmental issue resulting from the current way of life of people is the loss of biodiversity. Human beings way of life is at the center of loss of biodiversity because of the influence people have on the world’s ecosystem. The loss of biodiversity occurs through alteration and loss of the natural habitats, the introduction of the genetically modified organism in the ecosystem and direct exploitation of species (Dunlap 31).

In the text and the movie, the human beings can co-exist with the ecosystem without creating imbalances hence they were able to prevent against environmental issues. Understanding how the loss of biodiversity occurs is helpful in analyzing how characters in the book and the movie contributed or prevented against these. The Presbyterian faith instilled on Norman and Paul made them realize and appreciate the creations of God. As a result, they would not partake in activities which would alter or result in the loss of the natural habitat.

In the text, Norman father explains to them that nature is created by God and should be respected. The statement means that according to their way of life they were not supposed to interfere with the natural way of life and everything should remain the way God created it. The understanding that the works of creation were meant to be done by God only prevented them from adding new species to the ecosystem as is the case currently, with the introduction of genetically modified organisms in the natural habitat. Additionally, fly-fishing was the only means of fishing that is practiced in the text. In fly-fishing the number of fish that a person can catch is limited hence there will not exploitation of fishes in the habitat.

Consequently, from the movie, Norman and Paul are taught the importance of God and his creation hence they grow up appreciating it. The meadow that leads to the River and the Montana hills were there refuge where they would go and get purified of their worries and souls. To them, the natural landscape was as important as the church hence they would never participate in activities that could potentially harm the natural ecosystem. Additionally, the fly-fishing technique that their father taught them was not hazardous to the fish (Redford).

In both of these literary works, the importance of God creation was impacted on the people while they were still young, and they grew up to appreciate. Furthermore, the fly-fishing which was second to religion in the western Montana was taught so that they can preserve the natural habitat of the fish. In fly-fishing, the number of fishes that a person can capture is limited due to the technique that is used compared to the fishing methods that are used currently. Net fisheries and poison sprays catch a large number of fish that leads to exploitation of the species. However, there are some images from the movie that show activities that result in loss of diversity. For instance, there are pictures of logging activities, and Norman says that he wanted to join the plantation company. Logging and deforestation deplete the natural forest which is usually habitats to some organism hence through logging natural habitat is lost leading to loss of diversity. Therefore, although the logging activities interfered with the natural habitat, the way of life of people in Montana promoted the preservation of diversity, unlike the current people lifestyle.

Furthermore, climate change is the most impactful environmental issue that people are facing as a result of the changes in their way of life. Several human activities have led to exploitation of the environment resulting in climate change. Human Activities that produce greenhouse gases have led to climate changes such as global warming. As a result of climate changes, the world is experiencing a rise in temperatures of the ocean and earth surface which lead to irregular patterns of the weather such as desertification and flash floods (Dunlap 19). Human emissions are the major contributor to this environmental issue.

The problem of climate change like other environmental issues results from variations in the people way of life. Through understanding and analysis of the text and the movie “A River Runs Through It,” the issue of climate change can be addressed. The characters in the book and the movie did not face the challenge of climate change hence understanding their way of life would help in combating climate change in the current world. Also, so aspects that contributed to climate change from the text can be used to discuss ways of dealing with the issue.

First, in the book “A River Runs Through It,” the author notes that the only major producer of emissions was the Northern Pacific train that was used for transportation and the logging company. The limitations on equipment producing emissions meant that the ozone layer would not interfere with just like other natural resources available. However, the train was powered using coal which has the highest emission rate of greenhouse gases hence the use of trains in the text can be attributed to the current climate changes being experienced.

Additionally, from the movie, emissions can be noted to come from the train, smoking, motor vehicles and the logging company. When Norman leaves for college there is a huge cloud of emission is left in the air, this happens every time the train appears. The emissions left by the train can be argued to have contributed to the current level of greenhouse gases. Consequently, Paul was on many occasions smoking which also contributed to the emission being produced. However, the emission level produced is not as high as the current level because the way of life of the people such a forestation reduce the gases in the air hence climate change did not occur (Redford).

In both the text and the movie, there is situation that arguably contributed to emission that can be said to lead to climate change. The largest contributor to climate change is emission in the environment. The level of emission in both the text and the film is limited to mainly the means of transportation hence it can be argued that the emission produced could not lead to the current level of climate change. Consequently, in both the film and the text, the people maintained the natural forestation which helped in controlling the amount of emissions (Redford). However, in the current world, there are several means of greenhouse gas emission with no means of controlling the emission. Therefore, although the way of life in both the text and the film produced some emissions in the environment, the environment was well equipped to manage the emission as compared to the current emission rate.

In conclusion, the present way of life is the primary contributor to the environmental issues faced. The main environmental problems faced are depletion of natural resources, pollution, and loss of biodiversity and climate change. The majority of these problems were not present in the text and the movie because of the respect that the people had for the natural flow of life. The movie adapted the characters, plot, and setting of the text hence the notions and arguments supported by the text are available in the film. These similarities between the two literary materials provide enough evidence to support the argument that the current way of life leads to environmental issues. Therefore, by observing the way of life of character both in the text and the film, the problem of environmental problems can be managed and controlled.

Works Cited

Bullard, Gabe. "The World's Newest Major Religion: No Religion". National Geographic, 2016. Web. 1 July 2017. Available at:<>

Dunlap, Riley E. American environmentalism: The US environmental movement, 1970-1990. Taylor & Francis, 2014. Print.

Gottlieb, Roger S., ed. This sacred earth: Religion, nature, environment. Psychology Press, 1996. Print.

Maclean, Norman. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories: (twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Print.

Redford, Robert. A River Runs Through It. Hollywood, 1992. Film.

Tencer, Daniel. "Number Of Cars Worldwide Surpasses 1 Billion; Can The World Handle This Many Wheels?". HuffPost Canada. 2013. Web. 1 July 2017. Available at:<>

May 10, 2023

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