Literature / The Fisherman And His Wife

The Fisherman and His Wife is a fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

The plot of the story is that a kindly but poverty-stricken fisherman catches a magical fish. The fish begs him to let it go, claiming to be a prince. The fisherman lets it go and tells his wife all about it. The fisherman's wife is overbearing and greedy and she demands that he go back and ask the fish to grant him a wish out of gratitude. The fisherman does not have any desires, so the wife tells him to make the fish give them a nicer house, which is what she wants.

The fisherman meets the fish and asks for a nicer house, the fish obliges. When the fisherman returns home, he sees his wife in her dream house. A few days later, the wife loses interest in their new house and demand that the fisherman wish for a castle. The fisherman reluctantly does so, noting that the sea becomes less welcoming every time he asks for a wish.

The fisherman's wife can not be satisfied. After gaining her castle, she demands wealth and political power. The poor fisherman is sent to ask for everything she wants. Each time, the sea becomes more turbulent and stormy. It gets to the point where the fisherman risks his very life to have his wife's wishes granted. When the wife demands to have power over the Sun, Moon and stars, the fish refuses to grant this wish and undoes all the other wishes. The fisherman then goes home to his now humbled wife in their meagre hovel.

"The Fisherman and His Wife" provides examples of the following tropes:

  • An Aesop: You can't always have what you want, but you can always want what you have.
  • Animorphism: In some versions, the fish was originally a human prince who had everything (including his own species) taken from him and must serve the peasants he originally looked down upon. Could be seen as Foreshadowing.
  • Benevolent Genie:
    • The fish, until the fisherman's wife demands to have the powers of a god.
    • Or, in the original version, rather than revoking his wishes, the fish grants the final one with a clever twist: when the fisherman tells the fish that his wife wants to be like God, they are returned to destitution, as God has no need for titles or material possessions. The "revoking wishes in outrage at just how greedy she's gotten" is a common bowdlerization to avoid mentioning God.
    • In yet other versions, the fish would ask what the fisherman's wish is, and fisherman would say he wished his wife would be happy, to which the fish would make the wife happy with what she already has.
    • In a famous Russian version, the wish that finally pushes the fish over the edge is when the wife wishes to be the ruler of the sea, and to command the fish itself.
    • In one version, the fish tells the fisherman to wish for something for himself or the fish will turn his wife into a jellyfish. The wife doesn't believe this, and guess what happens...
  • Berserk Button: The wish to control the Sun, Moon and stars.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Inverted. The fisherman has to risk life and limb to grant his wife's wishes. The wife meanwhile, gets to stay in her increasingly lavish home wondering what else she should wish for.
  • A God Am I: The fisherman's wife ultimately wishes for this.
  • Henpecked Husband: The fisherman never gets a say in any of the wishes. He doesn't even want anything from the fish.
  • It's All About Me: The wife could not care less what her husband has to go through for her wishes. She believes that as long as she gets what she wants, the world is a better place.
  • I Want My Belovedto Be Happy: In one version, this is what the fisherman wishes for when asked by the fish. It's implied that the fisherman would keep doing this whole routine if the fish didn't step in when he did.