The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 27–30 | Summary



Chapter 27: Newsroom

Billy Pretty reports the drowned man Quoyle discovered is Bayonet Melville—the "Hitler yacht" man whose head was found in the floating suitcase. Billy writes up the gruesome story. Nutbeem complains of the seemingly unending sordid sex scandals he has to write about. Meanwhile, Quoyle has written an empathic article about how the ruined fisheries have destroyed one man and his family.

Quoyle and Nutbeem go to a restaurant for lunch. They discuss "Jack's uncanny sense about assignments." Each writer writes about something related to a personal trauma. Quoyle writes about car wrecks even though his wife was killed in one. Nutbeem says maybe Jack feels confronting your trauma helps you get over it or "dulls the pain." Jack treats himself the same way. He goes out to sea even though he's lost his son at sea and is still suffering the loss.

Later, Quoyle picks up Wavey. This is now part of his daily "routine." Every day he gives Wavey and the kids rides to and from the library, Beety Buggit's, or the school. Quoyle and Wavey are getting used to and depending on each other. Quoyle has tea at Wavey's house while the children play and Wavey works on her wooden crafts.

Chapter 28: The Skater's Chain Grip

Aunt Agnis leaves the old house to go for a walk. A small pond brings back pleasant memories of her childhood and family but also elicits a painful memory of an October day when she was 11 or 12. She was out alone skating on the frozen pond when a man approached her and unbuttoned his pants. She skated away and recalls his "hot breath on her face." The scene is sinister, but readers learn only that Agnis's "life had hardened her."

Back home Agnis cooks while Quoyle reads to his daughters. At dinner they discuss better ways to get to town, either by road or in Dennis's boat. Neither is a good option as both are too expensive. Quoyle suggests they get in-town rentals for the winter. They'd use the old Quoyle house only in the summer. Quoyle and the girls might rent Nutbeem's trailer when he sails for Brazil. Aunt Agnis might rent a room. Agnis is taken aback but says she'll "sleep on it."

Back at her upholstery business, Agnis has now decided to move to town for the winter. Mavis says the Burkes have a house in town they want to sell. Unfortunately, the Quoyles cannot afford to buy. Meanwhile, Agnis has rented a motel room. Quoyle and the girls are staying at Beety's house.

As Agnis goes through the mail she finds a letter from Macau. A "packet of American currency" falls out of the envelope. The money is tied with a blue leather cord, just like the material used on the Melville's upholstery for their yacht, the "Hitler boat." Agnis muses, "to think of that strange woman who dismembers her husband but pays her bills."

Chapter 29: Alvin Yark

Life at Beety and Dennis Buggit's house is rather chaotic for Quoyle and his daughters. Card shows up one morning to tell Quoyle to go see Diddy Shovel about a ship fire. Before Quoyle leaves, Billy Pretty calls to remind Quoyle to visit the boatbuilder, Alvin Yark, who is also Wavey's uncle, as winter is the best time to build a boat. Quoyle promises to go, then leaves to cover the burning ship. Later, he picks up Wavey, Herry, and his daughters. After dropping everyone off, Quoyle learns the burned ship has been towed to St. John's, so he can't see it.

The cold, dark winter descends on Newfoundland. The roads are almost impassable in the fog. Quoyle is driving Wavey and the children to see Yark. Quoyle asks Yark to build him a boat that's "not too big. Something I can handle by myself." Yark will build him a suitable "outboard rodney." Yark says if he finds the right tree with the right wood, Quoyle should have his new boat by spring. Yark explains he always finds the best new, green wood to make his boats.

Chapter 30: Sun Clouded Over

Quoyle and the girls meet Aunt Agnis in the dining room of the motel where she's staying. The food is atrocious. The aunt announces her good news: she's gotten a big job for her upholstery business. Her bad news is the job is in St. John's, so she'll be living there, in a company apartment, for the winter. When she asks if Quoyle was thinking of returning to New York, he's adamant he won't.

Bunny is making a cat's cradle with string. She learned how from Skipper Alfred (Yark). It's called The Sun Clouded Over. When Quoyle finally pays attention to her, he watches as she pulls on the string and the central "sun" disappears. Quoyle asks Bunny who made all the knots in the string. She made one knot, but another she found "this morning in the car, Dad, on the back of your seat." Again, mysterious tied knots keep appearing around the old Quoyle house, and now in Quoyle's car.



  • The epigraph to Chapter 27 details the "galley news," the mainstay of much of the content of The Gammy Bird, which contains lots of gossip and "unfounded rumors."
  • The epigraph to Chapter 28 contrasts the experience Agnis had when she was assaulted on the ice. The epigraph describes the way skaters should grab each other by the hand in order to save—not to harm—one another.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 29 describes a knot, "the bight," that means either the center of a rope or an arc in a rope. Both forms are used in boatbuilding, as when Yark builds Quoyle his new boat. The word also means "a wide coast" and refers to the freedom his new boat will bring Quoyle.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 30 pictures a sailors' knot. This image may refer to the "cat's cradle" Bunny makes with string.


Quoyle's growing self-confidence is on display in Chapter 27 when he suggests the paper publish an article about how Newfoundland treats sex offenders. Nutbeem agrees it's a good idea, and Quoyle takes this praise in stride. He's getting used to being a confident man who is not afraid to speak his mind. It seems Jack's medicinal approach to making assignments, forcing writers to confront topics that have caused them past trauma, is working.

Quoyle's confidence is also evident in the way he thinks about his relationship with Wavey; he is "treading a spiral," circling in "tighter and tighter" toward her. He will gladly give up his old house for the more life-affirming home she has created. Agnis, meanwhile, has already completed this emotional work. While she clearly was sexually assaulted repeatedly as a child, she believes her trauma has made her stronger.

The theme of modernity versus tradition is played out in various ways in these chapters. Wavey's uncle, Alfred Yark, represents a positive aspect of traditional ways. He's a successful boatbuilder who builds his boats in the careful and time-honored way Newfoundlanders have always built them. Quoyle is amazed when he learns Yark will begin building only when he finds the right tree with the right kind of wood for the boat. But for Yark and other Newfoundlander traditionalists, doing things right is more important.

The local economy, in contrast, has not sustained itself successfully. Quoyle's article "Good Bye to All That" sets out the economic hardships of Newfoundlanders suffering from an old economy that has failed and a new one not yet established. Quoyle presents the depressing numbers, which reveal how truly devastated Newfoundland's fisheries have become, especially for one family.

The economy is affecting Aunt Agnis as well. She's angry when she learns one of her clients has decided not to sail to Newfoundland for new upholstery but instead is having it made at a more "fair weather" location. The surprising envelope she receives from Macau somewhat compensates her for this loss and most likely saves her business.

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