The Fisherman and His Soul Summary by Oscar Wilde

The story is a mix of compassion, love, lust and death. It has valuable lessons about the desires a person have and how they lead to actions which can change his life drastically.

A Poor Fisherman & a Mermaid

The protagonist of the tale is a young fisherman who goes out to the sea every day to earn his bread. He sets his net but finds it hard to catch enough to live a comfortable life. But one day he catches a mermaid. She is a beautiful creature and the fisherman is instantly smitten.

When he wakes up he allows her to go back to her place but on the condition that she will come ashore every day and sing to him. The mermaid keeps her promise and the fisher eventually falls in love with her.

He desires to join her in her world but the mermaid explains to him that he cannot enter her world until he bears a soul. The fisherman is disappointed but determined to find a solution. He assures his beloved that he will release his soul and join her soon.

Firstly, the fisherman goes to the priest. The priest finds his request evil and sinful as souls are the purest parts of humans. He asks him to forget about the mermaid and offers no solution. Aghast, the fisherman goes to the market to find a buyer for his soul. Here, the merchants feel that the soul is worthless as a commodity and refuse to entertain his wishes.

Help from Witch

This leaves the fisherman in a fit of confusion. He decides to try supernatural ways to separate his body and soul. He approaches a witch who is infamous for her soul and magic. The witch warns him against the act but finally agrees to tell him how to release his soul in return for a dance with the devil.

The fisherman agrees. When the devil comes to the two dancing on the hill, the fisherman instinctively seeks refuge in the Almighty and both the witch and the devil are threatened. The witch is forced to tell him the act. She instructs him to cut his shadow with a knife standing in front of the moon.

The fisherman cuts the feet of his shadow and releases his soul. The departing soul pleads him to reunite but he is eager to go to his beloved mermaid. The soul is resigned to the fate but tells him that it will return every year to lure him to their reunion.

Soul’s Pleading

True to its promise, the soul returns every year on the same day. The first year, it allures him with intelligence and its power but the fisherman is unmoved. Next, the soul talks about limitless and abundant wealth. The fisherman is still undeterred.

The third year, the soul tempts him with the image of a dancing girl with naked feet. The fisherman is enticed as the mermaid had a tail instead of feet. The soul enters the body and the journey takes him to distant lands and forces him to commit crimes like thievery, murder etc.

The soul justifies such crimes as it does not have a soul or conscience. The fisherman realizes his blunder and tries to repeat the witch’s spell but to no avail.

However, the soul cannot enter his heart as it is still brimming with desire for the mermaid. The fisherman rushes to the shore but the mermaid does not return. He builds a house on the same shore and waits years for his beloved to return.

Dead Mermaid

After three years, there appear seamen from inside the waters carrying the dead body of the mermaid. The fisherman’s heart sinks and breaks at that sight of her corpse. The soul enters into his heart through the broken part. However, the reunion does not last long.

The fisherman drowns with the mermaid’s corpse and their love culminates into a tragic end. The priest suggests to bury their bodies in the field but refuses to bless the sea which contained their sinful bodies.

Noble Souls

After a few years, the priest visits the church and finds fragrant white flowers from the same portion of the field where the couple is buried. He understands the divine script and decides to honour the waters and every one of the divine creations.

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