The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 11–13 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11: A Breastpin of Human Hair

Aunt Agnis has a new truck to help her with the house and her upholstery business. She tells Quoyle the old house is just about ready for them to move in. Agnis takes the ashes of her dead brother, Guy (Quoyle's abusive father), and dumps them down the hole in the outhouse before urinating on them. It pleases her to know the family will be depositing their waste on Guy's ashes, though she keeps this secret to herself.

On Saturday Quoyle and his daughters move into the semi-renovated house. The inside is livable, though the exterior still needs work. The aunt makes a delicious dinner, and then Dennis Buggit helps Quoyle tie his boat up to the new dock.

Early the next morning Quoyle goes out for a walk along the seashore and picks up trash along the way. His eyes are drawn to an object trapped among the rocks, which he wrangles free. He holds "intricate knots in wire" twisted into "patterned spirals and loops." But he is disturbed when he realizes he is holding a brooch made out of the hair of long-dead Quoyles, shaped into "a fanciful insect with double wings and plaited thorax." He throws the offensive object into the sea.

Dennis has to work elsewhere that day and there's a storm coming, so Quoyle must finish putting the shingles on the roof himself. Quoyle has never done this before and he "felt a black wing" of fear envelop him, but he's determined to do his part. He sets the ladder against the steep roof and begins to nail in rows of shingles. "It wasn't so bad," he thinks. He works more confidently, until he sees Bunny has climbed the ladder to help her father. He shakes with fear as her foot appears ready to take a step onto the steep roof. Quoyle feels terrified she'll fall. He repeatedly urges his daughter not to move and coaxes her to "Let me get you." He grabs her and carries her down the ladder, shaking violently the whole way, "for in two or three seconds he had lived her squalling death over and over."

Chapter 12: The Stern Wave

Quoyle maneuvers his boat into the water. He gets the boat ready for his first solo run. He doesn't know the motor is incorrectly mounted, but he's pleased it starts at the first pull. After a bit of misdirection, Quoyle steers the boat beyond the dock and increases speed. He "laughed like a dog in the back of a pickup." However, as he makes a sharp turn, seawater floods into the boat. He forgot to bring something to bail with, so he turns the boat back to the dock. He thinks there must be "a way to keep the water out."

Nutbeem teaches Quoyle how to turn and slow his boat without swamping it. Quoyle needs a "motor well" and a "high bulkhead." The following Saturday, Quoyle and Dennis Buggit put in a better bulkhead. Dennis advises Quoyle to take the boat out only on "quiet days" and to get the local master boatbuilder, Alvin Yark, to make him a new boat.

Chapter 13: The Dutch Cringle

Harbormaster Diddy Shovel phones Quoyle at work to tell him "there's a sight down at the wharf ... with the smell of evil on it." It's "Hitler's boat." Quoyle and Billy brave a heavy rain to hurry to the wharf to see the boat, the Tough Baby. On the way, they pass Wavey Prowse and her son, Herry. Billy tells Quoyle she's a widow, and Quoyle gives Wavey a lift home.

The boat on the wharf "look[s] like a low tub with strange and gigantic shoehorns on its sides." Billy recognizes the expensive wood and other materials used on the astonishing old boat, whose shape he had never seen "in me life." They hear the muffled voices of a "terrible argument" coming from inside the cabin. Billy Pretty shouts for permission to board, and a white-haired man emerges from the cabin. When Billy and Quoyle identify themselves, the man agrees to give them his "lecture" about the boat, which he assures them is "absolutely unique."

The man, Bayonet Melville, describes the boat's expensive style and fixtures. It was definitely Hitler's boat, though Hitler never used it. He and his rich wife, Silver Melville, bought it and paid to have it renovated to its current luxurious condition. Bayonet describes the boat as "incredibly massive" and "utterly indestructible." Bayonet loves it, but his wife, Silver, hates it. Bayonet cannot stop bragging about the boat's luxury and indestructibility. His wife emerges from the cabin and snarls: "You wretched bastard, who are you talking to?" Bayonet ignores her, but she repeatedly insists he tell them about "what happened in Hurricane Bob." Finally, Bayonet tells the tale of how the Tough Baby was lifted out of the water by the storm and "smashed seventeen boats to matchsticks," then was propelled onto the beach where it "turned to rubble" 12 luxury beach houses. The couple seems to revel in their boat's destructive ability. They're excited as they describe the boat's "uncontrollable rampage" and how it "pulverized" boat houses and docks almost killing beach house residents.

When Quoyle asks if they're in Newfoundland on holiday, Bayonet sneers at the idea. No, they've come to "this godforsaken place" to have their boat reupholstered by a master upholsterer Silver insists on using. Quoyle expresses surprise yacht upholstery specialists exist. He's even more amazed to learn his Aunt Agnis has been hired as the Melville's master upholsterer. As Billy and Quoyle leave, they hear the couple arguing loudly in the boat cabin.

Analysis

Epigraphs

  • The epigraph to Chapter 11 refers to the breastpin, or brooch, Quoyle finds on his walk near the sea. The epigraph explains that in the past brooches were frequently made by knotting "the hair of the dead" into ornamental objects such as roses, birds, or butterflies.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 12 describes the friction, created by pressure, required of all knots to "prevent slipping." The epigraph refers to the pressure from Quoyle's coworkers to get a well-made boat, especially after Quoyle's mishap with his poorly made vessel.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 13 may refer to the fact the Melvilles are just passing through Killick-Claw and would therefore be living out of suitcases. However, it also foreshadows the importance of a suitcase Quoyle finds later in the novel.

Chapters

Family and revulsion are the major themes running through Chapters 11, 12, and 13. First, there is Agnis's satisfaction of urinating on her dead brother's ashes. Readers see she has a great deal of contempt for him, but don't yet know why. Then Quoyle is repulsed by the brooch made out of his dead relative's hair. Once he realizes what he is holding, he throws it back into the sea. Quoyle is not yet ready to fully appreciate his Newfoundland ancestry.

Finally, a boat shows up in the harbor that once belonged to none other than Adolph Hitler, who was evil personified. The Melvilles, current owners of the Tough Baby, quarrel, with the woman's loathing of her husband reaching a pitch. They are archetypal villains on the order of the Thénardiers of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (1862), so detestable their vile doings provide comic relief. Yet evil doesn't exist in a vacuum in The Shipping News. Something good will come of their appearance in the story when Quoyle writes an article about the boat.

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