Analysis of The Fishmonger by S. Joseph

The Fishmonger by S. Joseph
മീൻകാരൻ – എസ്. ജോസഫ്

This particular blog post is my assignment for the subject “Translation: Theoretical and Literary Perspectives” under the course BA English Literature triple main (Communicative English with Journalism). I was asked to write an analysis of this Malayalam poem. It is then I released there is no reference or analysis of the poem “The Fishmonger by S. Joseph” available online. Yes, Google saves millions of students, the time and effort to start homework and assignments from scratch. So here is the analysis of the Malayalam poem, “The fishmonger by S. Joseph”.

Short Summary of ‘The Fishmonger’ by S. Joseph

This poem is a nostalgic memory of children seeing a drowned fishmonger in a stream. The fishmonger was washing his vessels in a stream and epilepsy had struck him. He fell into the water though it wasn’t even a half foot deep. Then there was a motor workshop and its laterite wall nearby the stream. However they did not see the fishmonger, not even the screw pines saw him, it was them, the children who saw the fishmonger. The fishmonger laid there while the life around him was still moving. His hair was moving in the water current, the screw pine leaves played in the water and the water-bugs roamed in one still corner of the tiny stream.

Above are the events that happened in the past, the narrator then tells the reader what he sees at the exact spot at the present. There is a chicken shop, the workshop has a cemented wall and the paddy fields are raised and ‘There is no sign of the fishmonger’

Analysis of ‘The Fishmonger’ by S. Joseph

The title of the poem, “Meenkaran” translates into the English word “Fishmonger”. Fishmonger is a term used to denote a person who sells fish. Today the fish we use to cook are often available in various supermarkets and shops. They are frozen and have a longer shelf life. Whereas in the olden days, people were used to hearing the loud cries of a fishmonger just outside their homes on a motorcycle or even a bicycle. The fishmonger traveled through the village areas supplying fresh fish which was probably fished from the nearby stream or a lake. This poem portrays such a fishmonger seen in the olden days. It is also evident that S. Joseph masters the subject of village life and is evident through his several poems. You can read more of his poems here:

The speaker of this poem is a child and is written in the first-person point of view. The entire poem is narrated through the eyes of a child. Hence it does not convey a serious mood and tone however the subject is sober. The poem is told as how a child would perceive the incident. Though the poem is entitled as “Meenkaran”, there is very little about him. A lot of imageries are seen through the simple yet strong descriptions of the surrounding. There is a shift in time in the description of the atmosphere. One, the scene was the fishmonger is lying dead; two, after that incident had taken place.

When the fishmonger is lying dead, there are ‘screw pines’(plants around the stream) nearby a ‘tiny stream’(a stream where the fishmonger used to wash his vessels, perhaps also fish. It was less than half a foot deep.), a ‘motor workshop’, and a ‘laterite wall’(a reddish clayey material. This also suggests that it was in the olden days, as usually cemented walls are seen everywhere). The fishmonger is found by a group of children lying down in the stream, with his ‘vessel’(the vessel he probably used to hold the fish in. Perhaps he was done selling so he was washing up), ‘scale and weights’(These were used in the olden days as there was no weighing machine available back then).

The following lines portray a powerful imagery.

“ The body of the fishmonger
Lying facedown
The vessel, the scale, and weights
Epilepsy having twirled him down
Water playing about his hair
In the water, the screwpine leaf playing about
Stabbing down and raising itself.
In the still corner of the stream
Water-bugs roaming.”

It is now known to the reader that the fishmonger died of epilepsy. These lines present the liveliness of life around the dead fishmonger. As the water flows down the stream, his hair is moving in the water and the screw pine leaves go in and out of the water and both these imageries show the movement of life around him. However, in one corner, the water is still and on it, the water bugs live. A slight contrast between movement and stillness is present in these lines.

Then the narrator returns to the present and once again visits the same place where the fishmonger was seen dead. Now there exists a ‘chicken shop’, ‘workshop with plastered walls’(The laterite walls have been cemented), ‘paddy field in the earth’. The last few lines of the poem show the changes from before and after the death of the fishmonger, mainly in the picturesque view of the spot of the death of the fishmonger.

These imageries constitute a major part of the poem as they witness the death of the fishmonger. It is narrated as how a child would observe such a scene. A lot of descriptions of the surrounding is given and much less information or details of the fishmonger is provided.

Theme – “Change is the only thing that’s constant”

The main theme I observe is ‘change’-the change between life in the olden days versus the present. As the ‘dead fishmonger’, ‘paddy field’, ‘scales and weights’ represent olden/earlier lifestyles and a ‘shop’, ‘cemented walls’, and ‘raised ‘paddy fields’ suggest modern lifestyles. There is a theme of nature evident through the vast descriptions about the ‘stream’, ‘screw pine’ leaves, and ‘water bugs’. This suggests a nostalgic moment, as the narrator visits back to the same place the death had occurred and observes the change. The subject of the poem surrounds the death of the fishmonger yet portrays a lot of liveliness in the poem.

Also, if you want to find more about the author and his poems, this is the best website I came across:

So this is the end, if you have any queries or suggestions leave them in the comments section, and do tell me if I missed anything. If you want me to write up on any other poem do let me know. Thank you.

Mercy Hapsiba

Blogger | Freelance Writer | Learner | Student

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1 Comment

  1. The image of epilepsy is interesting – it seems to draw a comparison between a fish taken out of water – the way it would gasp and thrash about – and the fishmonger undergoing a similar condition just before breathing his last – perhaps it points to the closely linked identities of the fishmonger and fish!!

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