The Fisherman and His Wife: From a Tale About Humility to A Culture of Unquenched Greed

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” -Socrates

Socrates’ quote embodies what the Grimms’ tale, “The Fisherman and His Wife” seeks to teach. The tale tells a story of how one woman’s unbridled greed leads to dissatisfaction and, eventually nothing, a warning tale that doesn’t register with today’s American culture of consumerism.

In this tale, a poor fisherman and his wife live in a hovel by the sea. One day, the fisherman is performing his usual job, when he suddenly realizes he’s caught a flounder on his line. This isn’t any ordinary flounder (what fairy tale would be complete without some unusual creature); it is a talking flounder. The flounder reveals to the fisherman that he is actually an enchanted prince and convinces the fisherman he wouldn’t taste very good ergo he should be released. The fisherman does so, being the kind-hearted pushover (as is discovered as the tale progresses) he is.

Once he returns to his hovel, the fisherman eagerly tells his wife of his encounter with the enchanted prince/fish. The wife demands for her husband to return to the sea and ask the fish for a cottage (obviously if the fish talks, he must be magical and grant wishes). The husband does as his wife commands, and calls the fish. He makes his demand, and the fish replies that he should return home for his wife already has the cottage she desires.

Once he returns, the fisherman finds his wife inside a quaint cottage happily. The fisherman states, “Now we can live quite happily.”, to which his greedy wife replies, “That’s something we’ve got to think about.”

As her reply suggests, the wife is not satisfied by the simple cottage. She continues to ask her husband to go back to the fish and demand for bigger, grander things. Meanwhile, the fisherman continues warning his wife, suggesting that they should be content with what they have and not demand for more. His wife makes one final request toward the end of the story that completely backfires on her. While sitting on her throne as pope, she demands her husband to tell the flounder she wants to be like God. The husband does as he is told, and the fish responds, “Go back home. She’s sitting in your hovel again.” Thus, the wife is left with nothing once again.

The moral of the tale indicates that greediness and the thirst for more can never be quenched and will ultimately lead to nothing.

While this is a worthy lesson to be learned, today’s consumeristic culture drowns out any thoughts of humility in people its the bombardment of commercials and advertisements found in nearly every space. Children are no longer taught to be happy with what they have and appreciate the smaller things in life; rather they are taught to give in to that growing greed that the fisherman’s wife felt.

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Electronic gadgets are constantly being upgraded. The iPhone 5 will become old news in a couple of months when the iPhone 6 is created. The consumerist culture has people believe that they will never be satisfied until they have the latest technology, the latest fashions, etc. Humility goes out the door if you don’t own the thinnest laptop.

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The infectious greed (which should be called the “fisherman’s wife syndrome”) that has contaminated a considerable portion of the American portion translates to nearly every aspect of the culture. Aside from consumable goods, the greed to have more and be the best is very much present, for example, in academia. Students are taught since primary school to get the highest grades and have the best transcript, to apply to Ivy League colleges in order to be the top of the top, the creme de la creme. Somehow the thirst for learning and obtaining knowledge isn’t good enough; the greed to have the highest grades in your class are far more important.

Although humility is seen as an idealistic quality, it isn’t practical in the real world. Greed is ultimately a high-stakes race in this culture; if you don’t keep up, you’ll end up in the lower class and in a large amount of debt.

To whom much is given, much is desired.

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