A Man and No Fish

A Man A Fish by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard focuses on a rural African community with locals who rely on fishing from a local lake to make a living.  Prosper, a fisherman, spends his time at the lake to provide for himself and wife, Solange.  His relationship with Solange becomes challenging as they argue every scene due to his lifestyle, uncertainty of having a baby, and ghost of his dead mistress.  Tensions rise between Prosper and Solange as both characters avoid their problems by using makeshift fixes that don’t work in the long run.  As the local lake that Prosper fishes at has already run dry of fish from the constant fishing of the community, he continues to fish their everyday showing his unwillingness to solve his problems.  Prospers mindset and attitude end up hurting him in the future when eel salesman, Eddy, enters town and convinces Prosper to allow him to release an eel into the lake.  Although Prosper senses Eddy’s underlying motivations, Prosper dismisses the truth as he begins to feed into his scam causing Eddy to release more eel into the lake.  Due to the negligence and greed of both Eddy and Prosper, the eels become an invasive species in the lake causing an imbalance in the ecological structure of its inhabitants and making it unhealthy for the surrounding community. After many regrettable decisions, Prosper comes to terms with his losses and deals with the repercussions which surges more stress on Prospers personal life.  Prosper comes to uncover Eddy’s true intentions which allows them both to step back and realize how they have caused detrimental problems to the environment of the lake.  The lives of the community members are all affected by this which force them to reflect on their actions towards nature.  The themes of avarice, reluctance, and carelessness are seen in all characters which can be correlated to the how humans act towards nature.

Analysis on Prosper

In the beginning of the play, Prosper is introduced as a simple man with a simple hobby.  It is not until Eddy arrives in town that viewers get a glimpse of his true colors when Prosper turns Eddy away from fishing at, what Prosper claims is, his lake. As the play develops his echohubrism unravels when he explains to Solange his goal in life which is to bring home a basket full of fish hoping it will solve all his problems.  In relation to Cless’s notion of echohubris, Prosper has disregarded the fact the lake is running dry of fish because of the excessive amount of fishing and believes that the lake has more to give to him as if it has an endless supply of fish and is only there for his taking.  St. Bernard proposes the concept that Prosper associates his late girlfriend, Ines, with the lake as St. Bernard relays flashbacks of Prosper’s memory showing Ines always by the lake.  Whether Prosper’s view of the lake is based off of his hope to please Solange with fish or it is simply a memory of someone whom he cannot let go of, Prosper neglects the lake for what it actually is which is a part of nature.  As the play escalates, Prosper gets reeled into doing business with Eddy, an eel salesman.  Due to Prospers motive of catching fish, he feeds into Eddy’s scheme forgetting about the consequences of his actions.  As Eddy releases eels into the lake, Prosper allows it as he believes it will benefit him.  As this is only a quick fix to get fish in the lake, it ends up causing detrimental damage to the lakes ecological structure as the eels are an invasive species.  It is only at the end of the play that Prosper recognizes his mistakes as expresses that the “lake is a heart pumping life into the limbs of land through miles of river veins. And now, pumping poison” (St. Bernard 46).  His echohubristic actions caused him to be blinded to the state of his surroundings which made it too late to change the outcome of the lake.  Similarly, this can be connected to his carelessness towards Solange as he avoids confrontation with her when trying to solve their issues which results in a negative outcome.  Lastly, Prosper refers to ripples a few times throughout the play and how small ripples spread from the source and wider ripples follow.  Relating to the themes of cause, affect, and echohubrism, this foreshadows Prospers fate as his small actions have greatly negative effects.  Although the ripples begin as little ripples, they grow and spread which is precisely what happened with the decline in health of the lake and Prosper's relationship with Solange and even Eddy.


Cless's Notion of Echohubrism

A Man A Fish displays many references to humans and their relationship to nature.  While reading the play, the characters seem to focus solely on themselves and their aspirations rather than the consequences of their actions.  Each character shows this in different ways but they all contribute to decline in the health of their surrounding environment.  An author, Downing Cless, introduces the concept of echohubrism in his chapter from Readings in Performance and Ecology which connects greatly to the overarching concept of the play.  Echohubris refers to the characters that “try to control and exploit nature for their own power and profit” (Cless 160).  Cless also relays this idea of echohubrism by highlighting the idea of “acting without limits” which is very prevalent in A Man A Fish (Cless 160).  Although Eddy purposefully contaminates and disrupts the ecological structure of the lake, Prosper carries the blame as well by trying to control the lake as if everything that inhabits it is his for the taking.  Both characters display their echohubristic values as they make decisions based of their own self-interests while neglecting the interest of the lake’s environment and surrounding community.

Analysis on Eddy

As seen through Prosper, Eddy’s echohubrism is more evident as he blatantly tries to disrupt the ecosystem of the lake.  When Eddy comes to town, his main motive is to sell eel and profit off its failure to repopulate the lake.  He convinces Prosper to think that the eel will make him rich once he catches.  Eddy lures Prosper into his scheme by then saying Prosper must buy a special bait to catch the eel.  As Prosper continues down this path of listening to Eddy and buying more things from him, it becomes clear that his intentions are to profit off Prosper regardless of what he is doing to the lake’s environment.  In Prospers African community, the lake is a rich place for resources to the locals surrounding it therefore, they have values and practices that are engraved in their lifestyles such as fishing.  Eddy expresses how “this science is a thing of beauty” which reflects on him trying to modernize the community (St. Bernard 42).  This dismantles the ecological structure of the lake which Eddy reveals was part of his plan.  As the algae and scum build up, Eddy plants a water filter in the lake which is not supposed to work so that he can convince Prosper to buy the next version of the filter which is supposably more powerful and efficient.  When Prosper reveals that the original filter actually does work after a few days, Eddy is stunned which exposes himself and his intentions.  In a plead for forgiveness, Eddy says “I’m starting to feel like the organization that employs me may have taken unfair advantage of the situation and I’m gonna make it right.  There’s no need to fear innovation” (St. Bernard 55).  Through Cless’s concept of echohubris, Eddy knowingly ruins the chemical structure of the lake for his own profit proving his “excessive zeal to control or dominate nature” (Cless 160). Through St. Bernard’s use of an outsider coming to a local community to fix their lifestyles, it is distinct that Eddy is pushing his values onto a community he thinks will be better off.  This attitude of colonization adds to Eddy’s character which demonstrates his lack of respect towards other people and nature.  In addition, his arrogant attitude allows him to take advantage of Prosper who did not know the consequences of the eel.  Although Prosper acts in echohubristic ways too, Eddy shows more deceitfulness as he had planned for this to happen.

Environmental Connections to Burundi, Africa

A Man A Fish by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard touches upon many real-world issues such as neo-colonial fisheries, human security, international law, overfishing, and the landlocked country of Burundi.  As a country who has gone through many hardships with their economy, government, and resources, A Man A Fish shows these struggles in an indirect way as St. Bernard does not specify the exact location the play takes place.

            Burundi bears many citizens that make their living off fishing as it is a main source of food and income.  These people rely on the natural resources of their country to maintain a stable life.  Not only do these people families rely on them but so does the economy as the fishing on Lake Tanganyika produces up to 200,000 tons of fish yearly (Jensen 2016).  Since Burundi is a landlocked country, the lakes are where most of their resources come from.  With the unfortunate amount of overfishing in these central lakes, there has been a major decrease in fishery production with negatively affects the whole country.  This has led to the problem of human insecurity as it has disrupted the ecosystem and left many with minimal access to food and income according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. 

            The issue of overfishing has stemmed not only from the locals overfishing but also fisheries taking advantage of the lakes’ resources.  Neo-colonial fisheries have greatly contributed to this situation as they can catch fish faster and at greater masses (Kanyange 2020).  Similarly, to Eddy, these fisheries are taking advantage of nature and local communities by exploiting them for their resources.  Burundi continues to have this issue which has resulted in the implementation of rules to which where, how, and when fishing is allowed.  Some of the laws include what kinds of nets are allowed, how long the nets are, and that the introduction of non-native fish species is prohibited (Jensen 2016).  Unfortunately, there is poor regulatory framework towards these fishing efforts and a lack of institutions for management of advisory and research due to the absence of stable international law.  In addition, the environmental pollution from excessive erosion of farmlands has caused the lakes detrimental issues according to the International Rescue Committee.

            Connecting back to A Man A Fish, these problems are very distinctly seen in the community the play takes place.  Through the description of Prospers home, financial status, and lifestyle, he is struggling from these problems that surge in the real-world.  Eddy can be associated with colonizers and fishers with advanced technology as he ultimately ruins the environment of the lake at the cost of the local’s well-being.  St. Bernard also highlights these relationships by making Prosper seem desperate and Eddy seem all-knowing and arrogant.  A Man A Fish gives a glimpse at these real-world situations which eludes the idea that this is happening on a larger scale. 

Landlocked Country of Burundi

Burundi is surrounded by land and borders Lake Tanganyika.  The location of Burundi makes it challenging to take part in trade and export goods.  Since there is limited land and a growing population, resources run low with little to no access to outside resources.  

Threatened Lake of the Year 2017: Lake Tanganyika

As shown above, the amount of fisherman is growing and the amount of fish is decreasing.  This is detrimental to the citizens of Burundi as they rely on fish to feed themselves and their families.  

Works Cited

“Burundi.” International Rescue Committee (IRC), https://www.rescue.org/country/burundi#what-is-the-situation-in-burundi.

“Fishing in Burundi.” Fortune of Africa Burundi, 6 June 2016, https://fortuneofafrica.com/burundi/fishing-in-burundi/.

“Lake Tanganyika Fisheries Declining from Global Warming.” University of Arizona News, 9 Aug. 2016, https://news.arizona.edu/story/lake-tanganyika-fisheries-declining-glob….

New 08/11/2021 – by Derrick Silimina, et al. “As Fish Catches in Burundi Dwindle, Fishers Face Hard Times.” D+C, 11 Aug. 2021, https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/fish-catches-burundi-dwindle-fishers-fa….

St. Bernard, Donna-Michelle. A Man A Fish. Playwrights Canada Press, 2015.

“The Third Republic.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/place/Burundi/The-Third-Republic.