The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 14–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 14: Wavey

Aunt Agnis opens her upholstery business in town. Quoyle is painting the girls' room as they play together with only a bit of fighting. To stop their squabbling, Quoyle takes Sunshine on his lap and tries to calm her and Bunny. While Quoyle calms his daughters, Agnis tells him of the two women she hired to help her out in the shop. Agnis speaks of her past, of how she started her upholstery business after her friend Irene Warren died in 1979. Agnis explains growing up by the sea made working for boat owners a natural thing for her to do. After taking a summer course in upholstery, she found she was good at it. But, when the course ended, she learned Irene was dying, and their plans for an upholstery business were put on hold. After Irene died, Agnis opened her business.

Although Quoyle works on his article at home, he has trouble writing about Hitler's boat. He can't capture "the Melvilles' savageness." He also worries about Bunny's strange outbursts and behavior and plans to go into town and discuss this with his aunt. As he drives, he thinks about Wavey and then sees her. He learns she works part-time at the library. He gives her a lift, but she sits "straight" and in "silence." Quoyle realizes she's "not so young, heading for forty. But that sense of harmony with something" impresses him. He tells her Bunny is starting school. Both "are pleased" at their encounter.

Chapter 15: The Upholstery Shop

Quoyle visits Aunt Agnis's old-fashioned upholstery shop in town. It's in an old storefront with "wavy old glass" windows. He meets her two assistants. One of them, Dawn Budgel, cuts the leather for the Melville's upholstery. Quoyle and Agnis leave to go to a restaurant for lunch, and Quoyle orders the "squidburger."

During lunch, Quoyle asks Agnis about Bunny, whom he realizes is "different ... out of kilter." She reassures him somewhat by reviewing all the trauma Bunny has lived through: the loss of her mother, her "sale" to the pedophile, the uprooting to Newfoundland. She reveals sometimes Bunny says "they are still in New York ... [and] things are upside down for her." But Quoyle presses on, wondering if Bunny has a "personality disorder." He explains his concern about Bunny's frequent nightmares, her "vision" of the white dog with red eyes. Agnis is aware of these fears and has experienced them with Bunny herself. Quoyle is concerned Bunny imagines things and is "scared to death" of imaginary things. The aunt tells Quoyle to give Bunny more time to adjust to her new life and suggests perhaps Bunny is "sensitive in a way the rest of us aren't. Tuned in to things we don't get." Finally, Agnis says, though Bunny may be "different," we are "all different ... We're all strange inside."

As they walk back to Agnis's shop, she thinks being "a little girl" does not stop bad things from happening to you. She mentions Guy, her brother and Quoyle's father, but the reader gets no further information. As he leaves, Quoyle kisses her cheek.

Chapter 16: Beety's Kitchen

Bunny and Sunshine go to Dennis and Beety Buggit's house for day care. Quoyle feels fine, more confident and more comfortable in his new home and job. His daughters play with the Buggit children in the Buggit's welcoming home smelling of "baking bread," which Quoyle loves. He sits down for tea, and Bunny "throws herself" at him. "Nothing wrong with her," Quoyle tells himself.

Dennis tells the story of his friend Carl. The event was so harrowing it "turned his hair white in a month." Carl was in his boat and it seemed a giant squid tentacle emerged from the water and wrapped itself around Carl's arm. Carl's brother began slashing at the tentacle with a knife and eventually freed Carl. They raced the boat away from the squid as fast as they could go.

Dennis then explains why his father, Jack Buggit, wants to keep him off boats and off the sea. It has to do with the death at sea of the elder Buggit son, Jesson. But Dennis loves the sea and fishing and "can't keep off the boats." Dennis explains, "Dad's got a gift" that shows or tells him things before they happen. For example, he knew where to find Dennis after his shipwreck, and Jack somehow knew the moment when Jesson died. He announced, "Jesson's gone," and then sat on his own for hours.

An old man, Skipper Alfred, comes to the door and is given tea. He's glad to meet Quoyle and remembers the Quoyle family from way back. He says the family was "a savage pack." He gives Bunny a shiny brass square, or straightedge, so she can help her father fix the house.

Analysis

Epigraphs

  • The epigraph to Chapter 14 contrasts the name of girls in Wyoming (Skye) with the name of girls in Newfoundland (Wavey). People are sometimes named for that aspect of a place and a landscape that is most dominant. Since Newfoundland is an island, Wavey represents all the water surrounding it, which strikes fear in Quoyle's heart.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 15 references the types of knots used by an upholsterer. This ties Aunt Agnis to Quoyle and their sailing, knot-dependent ancestors. Agnis uses various knots and stitches to secure her place, and place of business, in their new home.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 16 informs readers the knots required by a housewife are common. The chapter evokes the atmosphere of warmth and care Beety Buggit brings to her household.

Chapters

Identity and fatherhood loom large in Chapters 14–16. Both Aunt Agnis and Quoyle are struggling to build their new identities. For Agnis, her new identity depends on her former one. Like many of her fellow Newfoundlanders, Agnis had trained to be a master craftsperson in a nautical trade, becoming a specialist upholsterer for yachts and the shipping industry. Mavis Bangs, another example of a maritime industry expert, could "bore you silly" with the science of lighthouses and signal lights.

Meanwhile, Quoyle fights the demons of his past and his former identity as a failure. His growing concern for his daughter Bunny and her imagined traumas, perhaps her real traumas as well, forces him to examine his competence as a father. He wonders if Bunny's strange behavior is somehow the result of whatever parental shortcomings he may have exhibited. Sometimes what is left out is even more notable than what is included. Here Quoyle never considers Bunny's issues may be the direct result of Petal's complete lack of parenting, her total negligence, downright abuse, rather than his efforts to be the only parental figure Bunny has ever known.

Dennis Buggit's tales of the sea and his family explain the rift between him and his father. In Newfoundland the sea can unite and divide families. Death at sea is not uncommon among fishermen, but the loss of Dennis's brother is still felt acutely by him and his father. His father's misguided attempts to save Dennis from a life at sea are really failed fatherly duty. Quoyle's burgeoning concern for Bunny's odd behavior creates a parallel to Dennis's father's "gift" of second sight. Although this gift may be generally disbelieved or even ridiculed in the modern world, it seems to be accepted by traditional Newfoundlanders.

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