The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 17–19 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 17: The Shipping News

Quoyle is at work typing up his story about the Tough Baby. His words are flowing out of him, and he knows and feels the writing is good. Tert Card, the managing editor, agrees to run the article but stresses it was not assigned by Jack Buggit and intimates Jack might not like the piece because he didn't order anyone to write it. The possibility Jack will be critical worries Quoyle. It is his first article for the new "Shipping News" column and he wants it to be accepted.

When Jack Buggit arrives, Quoyle stumbles over himself apologizing for taking the initiative without permission. But Jack is smart enough to recognize good writing when he sees it. He's so impressed by the article and the positive community feedback it has already garnered, he tasks Quoyle with writing a weekly article for a new column, "The Shipping News," about interesting boats anchored in the harbor. Initially, there was just a simple listing of the boats in dock. It will be much more now. As an added bonus, he says, "We'll order [a] computer" for Quoyle. Quoyle is thrilled by Jack's praise, and the kudos he receives from Nutbeem and Billy Pretty.

Chapter 18: Lobster Pie

Quoyle is driving Wavey and her son, Herry, who has Down syndrome, to the library. Wavey is an organizer who is trying to establish a school for special-needs children in the area. Quoyle is impressed with her "fervent" energy and her confident "ringing voice" as she speaks of her determination to help her son and others like him. As an activist, Wavey has started a parents' group, circulated petitions, held meetings, and done all she could to realize her goal. Quoyle is so drawn to her he wonders "what else ... could kindle this heat?"

Afterward, Wavey and Herry accompany Quoyle to Beety's house to pick up Bunny and Sunshine. Then they all drive to Wavey's house, which has many painted wooden animals on the front lawn. When Bunny sees a wooden dog painted white, she becomes terrified. "A white dog," she says, and Quoyle thinks she's "inducing a thrill—working herself up." Her fear forces Quoyle to leave early with his daughters.

That weekend Agnis, Quoyle, and Dennis continue to fix up the old house. Quoyle also works on cutting steps into the rock for better access to the shore. Quoyle feels a pang as he sees Petal's face in Sunshine. But the pain soon turns to affection for his younger daughter.

One Saturday Quoyle goes in his boat to buy lobsters. He sees icebergs and thinks he never dreamed they would be a part of his life. Aunt Agnis makes lobster pie for dinner, and as she cooks, she mentions she's invited her employee Dawn Budgel for dinner. It's obvious to Quoyle that Agnis is trying to play matchmaker. As it turns out, Quoyle and Dawn are not a good match. The dinner table conversation "drags" until Dawn reveals the Melvilles have disappeared without paying Agnis for the upholstery she made for their yacht.

Quoyle takes his daughters out in his boat. Even there Bunny starts sobbing because she's certain she's seen a dog in the water. Quoyle tries to explain there are no dogs in the sea. But Bunny insists it's what she saw and the dog in the sea wants to bite her. Quoyle tries to use reason to prove to Bunny she couldn't have seen a dog in the sea, but she's adamant.

Chapter 19: Good-bye, Buddy

Tert Card is in a foul mood, so Quoyle, Billy Pretty, and Nutbeem drive to the wharf to eat their lunch. Billy talks about how small the cod are now that the fishery is depleted. He describes the strange weather various places in Newfoundland have been experiencing. It seems bad things are happening in Newfoundland. Nutbeem has more sexual abuse stories this week than ever before. Billy describes stories of bloodshed and mayhem in nearby towns. Only Quoyle has no car wreck to write about. Billy mentions he wants to visit the cemetery on Gaze Island, "a place of local interest," before winter sets in. Quoyle is interested, and they plan to go together.

Billy then tells about what the town of Misky Bay was like during World War II, when it was a storage depot for ammunition.

Quoyle reads the first draft of his article, "Good-Bye, Buddy," about an explosion on a ship in Perdition Cove. Nutbeem says the article is "not bad." Quoyle and Billy plan to go to Gaze Island that Saturday.

Analysis

Epigraphs

  • The epigraph to Chapter 17 mentions "a favored person aboard ship." In this case that favored person is Quoyle who gains favor and respect for his excellent work on his "Killer Yacht" article for the newspaper.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 18 refers to the lobster dinner Aunt Agnis makes Quoyle and his family, as well as her employee Dawn Budgel.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 19 likely refers to the efforts of some Newfoundlanders to escape the economic malaise on the island. As the epigraph indicates, for most Newfoundlanders escaping their homeland is difficult and tricky.

Chapters

Quoyle's growing confidence and sense of self-worth come to the fore in these chapters. As he writes about the Hitler yacht, Quoyle has "a sense of writing well." The beginning paragraph of the article is included at the beginning of Chapter 16, so the reader can see it is, in fact, well written. Proulx creates an uplifting picture of the beaten-down man discovering he is pretty good at most things he tries his hand at. The positive feedback from his boss makes Quoyle feel "light and hot." He's "thirty-six years old and this [is] the first time anybody ever said he'd done [something] right." Quoyle is changing for the better as his confidence and self-assurance grow at the newspaper, though he is still attached to Petal and his old life.

As Quoyle works on making steps from the house to the sea, he is, in a sense, connecting with the maritime traditions of his ancestors. He's becoming a true Newfoundlander by allowing himself to be drawn to the sea. When he sees icebergs, he marvels he "had never dreamed icebergs would be in [my] life." Quoyle's interest in accompanying Billy Pretty to Gaze Island, and its cemetery, foreshadows the many things Quoyle will learn about his ancestry.

Chapter 19 contains tales and stories about Newfoundland's past and present. Billy Pretty tells the tale of Misky Bay during World War II. There is so much sunken ammunition and cable offshore the town can barely be used as a boat harbor. The story of the war dovetails with Quoyle's new article for "The Shipping News" about an explosion on a boat in Perdition Cove. This article, too, is written with great verve and style. Nutbeem is certain "Jack will like it. Blood, Boats, and Blowups." Yet it's more than the subject that appeals—it's the talent of the writer.

Proulx's own style in these chapters mirrors the rocky, rough-hewn terrain of the Newfoundland setting. Sentence fragments—noun phrases without personal pronouns, phrases without subjects or verbs—appear over and over throughout the book, both in characters' speeches and in the omniscient narration. Whole scenes are described in this style, stripped of any agency influencing the images. The effect is a clear, vivid description of what's seen and sensed without the mental clutter of who, when, or how. The final words of Chapter 17, "Fog against the window like milk," exemplify the effect the author creates. The simile sustains Quoyle's emotional high and the elation of his coworkers after he is told his article on the "Hitler" boat was really good. The use of "milk" in this simile makes the fog on the window feel comforting, rather than suffocating, mysterious, or depressing, and adds to readers' understanding of the character's emotional growth.

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