The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 34–36 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 34: Dressing Up

Quoyle and his daughters rent the Burke house in town. At work Quoyle reluctantly accepts Tert Card's invitation to go out for a drink at Tert's favorite place, a local dive. Tert expounds on his favorite topic: the terrible winter weather, though he says he's "seen worse." He surprises Quoyle by announcing that, as of the New Year, he plans to leave the newspaper. He has found an oil industry job in St. John's, which may lead to a job in Texas.

Quoyle takes Sunshine to the school auditorium to watch Bunny's performance in the school Christmas pageant. Surprisingly to Quoyle, the pageant includes local adults as well as schoolchildren and people come by the truckload. Bunny and her friend Marty sing what seems like an African song. Later, after the hilarious chicken act, Wavey and Herry come onstage: Wavey plays the accordion while Herry tap dances. Beety Buggit stops the show with her tales about and imitations of various local characters. She tells an uproarious story about Billy Pretty and an old grandfather clock. The close-knit community seems to thrum with laughter and friendly feeling toward all those in attendance.

At Christmas Quoyle and Wavey exchange small gifts. After the holiday Beety suggests they visit Nolan at Capsize Cove to bring him some food. Smoke comes out of Nolan's shed's stovepipe when they arrive. Dennis Beety goes inside first. When he comes out he says, "The poor old bugger's starving ... what a mess. He'd better go into a home ... he's off his rocker." Nolan has been using his shed walls for firewood. Dennis advises Quoyle to contact Beety or Wavey, who might be able to refer Nolan to a good nursing home.

Chapter 35: The Day's Work

During a cold and miserable January, Jack Buggit tells Quoyle he's making him the new managing editor of The Gammy Bird, though Quoyle will continue to write his "Shipping News" column as well. Quoyle has a good idea for a new column, which Jack likes.

Quoyle now sits at Tert Card's old desk. As Quoyle predicted, Benny Fudge has trouble writing the sex abuse column; his banal reporting is no match for Nutbeem's "heart-wrenching stories." Instead, Fudge wants to concentrate on "the other court stuff" and photography.

Quoyle makes a good managing editor, feels pride in his work, and takes his responsibilities seriously. He tears out the masthead of his first issue as the boss, "Managing Editor: R. G. Quoyle," and mails it to his old friend Partridge. At the end of the chapter, readers learn Silver Melville has been captured in Hawaii with "a handsome man thirty years younger than she." She confesses, "I did it for love."

Chapter 36: Straightjacket

Spring seems to be coming. The cod fishery is still depressed. At work Billy says he heard three fish-processing plants may close next month. Partridge, Quoyle's old friend from upstate New York, calls from California to tell him about riots and random acts of violence there. Partridge also relays information about the mass shootings and gun killings happening all over the United States.

Quoyle helps Jack Buggit gut and clean the few, small cod Jack caught. While they work, Jack tells Quoyle he'd like to drop the "fake ads" which fill the newspaper and use the space for real news. Jack tells Quoyle publishing fake ads was Tert Card's idea to make the paper look big and prosperous.

In February Quoyle gets official papers he must go to St. John's to sign in order to have Nolan put in a home. Nolan's been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Quoyle asks Wavey to go with him, and she agrees. They drive to the city, and Wavey buys a few things but mostly window-shops, admiring goods she doesn't need and cannot afford.

After shopping they visit Nolan, who seems calm and rational. He says he's glad to be in a home because of its "creature comforts." Nolan apologizes for tying the "hex" knots and leaving them around the old house. The old man seems regretful he "had tied knots 'gainst you. Raised winds" and done other types of magic he had thought would spook Quoyle and his daughters and get them to leave the old house. In asking about Aunt Agnis, Nolan reveals she'd had an abortion after being raped by Guy Quoyle—her brother and Quoyle's father. Quoyle "grimaces" but does not seem shocked by his father's behavior.

Quoyle and Wavey exchange Christmas gifts. Then Wavey runs into her kitchen to get something for Quoyle and gives him two brown eggs. These simple things represent the developing relationship between Quoyle and Wavey. Later that evening Quoyle and Wavey have dinner, see a movie, and finally sleep together at the hotel.

Analysis

Epigraphs

  • The epigraph to Chapter 34 describes the creative ways sailors used to plait their hair. The epigraph refers to the costumes of the performers at the Christmas pageant.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 35 explains the concept of "dead reckoning," which is a way seamen can know where they are and the direction they are moving in. It likely refers to Quoyle's understanding of his new role both at work and in his private life.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 36 references a straightjacket that suggests Cousin Nolan's dementia or insanity.

Chapters

Conflicting values between tradition and modernity play out in economic issues in Chapter 34. Tert Card is willing to go as far as Texas in search of better-paying work. Yet true to his character, he plans to leave his wife in Newfoundland because "a woman stays at home." This may be the one old-fashioned tradition Card still lives by. Proulx here exposes the vulnerability of one-resource, traditional communities facing big economic changes; in Killick-Claw the topic engulfs all adult members of the community.

Unlike Card, Jack is a traditionalist who is dismayed by modernity. Jack bemoans the economics of modern Newfoundland, particularly the devastated fisheries. He blames the collapse of the cod fishery on modern foreign trawlers. In Chapter 36 he explains the tiny five-pound cod Quoyle is helping him clean used to be a two-hundred-pound cod when traditional fishermen made their living from the sea. The closing of three fish-processing plants is an inevitable result of the fisheries' collapse. While Jack complains, or rages, about the end of traditional fishing in Newfoundland, Quoyle thinks, "Jack was lucky he'd escaped so long." Quoyle, an outsider, has lived in the new economy and understands how uncertain and merciless it can be.

The Christmas pageant represents the traditional community values of the Newfoundlanders. Everyone comes. Even the subjects of the jokes and tales do not take offense, for it's all in good fun and they're certain of the goodwill of their neighbors.

Quoyle is somewhat uneasy with his relationship to Nolan, but he takes his responsibility to help his old relative seriously. Though he barely knows the old man, Quoyle accepts Nolan "is bound to himself" by family ties.

Proulx continues to present a clear-eyed view of violence. Modern urban centers in the United States have their share of violence. But Newfoundland, where Agnis was raped by her brother as a young girl, is no different.

Still, love trumps violence in this novel. Quoyle's self-confidence grows along with his relationship with Wavey. He imagines "she had to love him to know that it was the outstretched hands, the giving, that mattered."

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