The Fisherman and His Wife

The fisherman encounters the magic fish/fish prince
The fisherman encounters the magic fish/fish prince
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Origins

The fisherman and his wife is a prototypical tale of human greed. The Brother’s Grimm published the tale in their collection of stories in 1812. It has become a popular and well known story which has appeared in all forms of literature from children’s books to famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin’s 1833 poem The Fisherman and the Fish. The story is an old Germanic fairy tale that warns of the excess of greed. Stories such as these have been around since the beginning of human story telling. Notable examples of these are Rumple Stiltsken and The Christmas Carol.

Synopsis

The Fisherman and His Wife is the classic story of too much greed. If you don't know the story, you can find it Here. Otherwise, here is a (very) brief synopsis.

In the story, a old man and woman live in a hovel by the ocean. The old man is a fisherman, and one day goes out to pull his nets in and he has caught a prince fish, who he then lets go. The old man goes home and tells his wife about it. She then proceeds to demand that he go back and ask for a nicer house from the fish. He does so, and comes back and it has happened. The wife continues asking for nicer and nicer things, until her last request is too much, and the fish takes away everything he had given the couple. They are once again reduced to living in poverty. The moral of the story is essentially that being too greedy leads to you having nothing in the end.


Where Else Does this Allusion Exist?

This moral is actually quite a common saying. Most people have probably heard it from their parents at one time or another, such as when you are not sharing something with a sibling or playmate when you are very little, and because you are being so greedy, it gets taken away from you and given to the other person. So in everyone's life, they have most likely acted like the Wife in this story in some way or another, be it by big time financial fraud, or keeping a toy for yourself instead of sharing it with a friend.
There are also innumerable stories with the same moral. One of the shortest and most succinct available is called "The Dog and the Shadow." The similarity between this story and the Fisherman and His Wife is quite simple. The dog wants more, and therefore loses everything. Other stories that allude to this one include Rumple Stiltsken. Almost everybody knows this story of the little old man who spins wheat into gold. The woman in this story is very similar to the wife of the Fisherman, in that she is far too greedy and ends up losing her first born child. Another similar story is The Stonecutter. This is a Japanese folk tale that tells of greed. The difference is that the man learns to avoid greed, and becomes happy with what he is. The "wish granter" in this story is always munificent unlike the "wish giver" in The Fisherman, who is munificent at first but then becomes malevolent as the wife asks for more and more. A possible connection to The Odyssey could be Odysseus' relationship with his crew. He will get them somewhere incredible, like the island where the Flock of the Sun are, and his men abuse the island and get everyone but him killed. Their greed took Odysseus back to nothing.

Why is this Allusion Presented so Often?

This allusion exists in so many places for a couple of reasons. First, it is a warning against being too greedy, and shows what that sort of behavior can lead to. It serves as a way to tell off young children for being greedy, and showing them what happens. Second, this allusion is a commentary on human nature. If it was not true, it would not show up in as many forms as it does if people did not have to be taught that it is a bad characteristic to be greedy. This is a very evident part of human nature. Little children hate sharing their toys. It is perhaps a primal instinct, but it is still a basic human characteristic that any of us can revert to at any time.