The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 37–39 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37: Slingstones

The March weather is terribly cold. Quoyle gets a call from Bunny's school telling him she knocked down a teacher. When Quoyle gets to the school, he sees Bunny's face "full of rage and misery." In the car Bunny admits to pushing the teacher she calls "the worst one of all." The teacher had mocked Herry, and an enraged Bunny rushed to defend him. The next day the child and teacher exchange apologies and peace is restored. Wavey admires Bunny's strength and sense of fairness.

Quoyle, Wavey, and the children spend Saturday at Alvin Yark's, where Quoyle helps build his boat. Yark hints at Quoyle marrying Wavey, but Quoyle feels uncertain. He still loves Petal, but he tells Yark the problem involves Wavey's attachment to Herold, her dead husband. Yark then tells Quoyle that Herold's ways as a notorious womanizer "made her life some miserable."

Later, Jack Buggit takes part in the seal hunt and skins the seals he kills. Wavey makes seal flipper pie for Quoyle and spends the night with him. Later Quoyle tells Wavey about Petal, about how she hated to cook and went with other men. Wavey reciprocates and admits Herold was a womanizer.

Quoyle, Wavey, and their children go on a picnic, and Bunny finds a dead bird. Herring fishing season begins, then ends. Jack Buggit prepares to set lobster traps, Aunt Agnis will return the next Saturday, and Quoyle invites everyone to a welcome-home party.

Chapter 38: The Sled Dog Driver's Dream

Alvin Yark has finished Quoyle's new boat. Yark says Quoyle can pick it up the following Saturday.

Quoyle and Wavey have been preparing food for Aunt Agnis's party. Yark notes the "spiders is lively," which means bad weather approaches. Everyone attends Agnis's party and has a wonderful time. Bunny drags Quoyle up to her room, where she shows him the white sled dog puppy Wavey got her. Bunny has named the dog "Warren the Second" after Agnis's dog. Quoyle embraces Wavey in thanks, and the watching crowd cheers. The gesture is "as good as an announcement" of their wedding. Billy Pretty arrives covered in snow saying it looks like a bad storm's coming. By nine o'clock, the guests have left ahead of the storm.

By midnight the wind is "bellowing, a terrible wind" battering the town. In bed Bunny dreams about the old Quoyle house as the ferocious wind batters it. She sees the stretched anchoring cables. She dreams the house is "straining toward the sea," then tearing free from the support cables and toppling into the sea. When she wakes up screaming, Quoyle rushes to her and sees she's "mad with fear."

Back at work, Quoyle has the staff prepare an issue on the storm and storm damage. A heat wave follows the storm. Wavey comes to the office to tell Quoyle her father wants to see him. Her father, Archie, waits for Quoyle. Archie hands Quoyle binoculars, which reveal the old house is gone—swept into the sea.

Quoyle realizes Aunt Agnis will be upset, but Agnis says she's a strong woman and will get over the loss. Then Quoyle takes the opportunity to hint he knows how his father, Agnis's brother, abused her as a child. Agnis "haul[s] in her breath" and then "sob[s] into her palms" at the memory of the abuse. Quoyle and Agnis agree to build a summer cottage where the old house used to be. In other seasons they'll live in town. Agnis will use the insurance money from the old house to build the cottage and to buy herself a workshop in town. Agnis will also help Quoyle purchase the Burke house he and his family currently rent.

Chapter 39: Shining Hubcaps

Quoyle visits Alvin Yark and admires his completed boat. Quoyle and Dennis Buggit put the boat on a trailer to take it home.

Beety Buggit has made dinner for Quoyle, Wavey, and the children. Even in the warm and friendly atmosphere, Dennis fidgets. He's had "no work for weeks, none in sight." Quoyle offers Dennis a job at the newspaper, but Dennis declines. He wants his father's fishing license. If Dennis can't fish, he may take his family to Toronto for a couple of years, where he can earn good money as a carpenter.

After putting the kids to bed, Quoyle takes a hot bath. Getting out, he looks at himself in the mirror. He recognizes his body is large but he thinks "the effect was more of strength than obesity."

Quoyle learns Jack Buggit may be lost at sea. Search and Rescue are out looking for him. At midnight Dennis calls to say they found the boat and Jack, but they were too late. Jack drowned, apparently because he was entangled in a lobster trap line that pulled him out of his boat and into the sea. Everyone grieves over Jack's death. Billy wonders why Jack didn't have his knife in his pocket to cut the line that trapped him.

At the newspaper office, Billy Pretty, Quoyle, and the new writer, Benny Fudge, discuss Jack's death. Billy says Mrs. Buggit expected her husband to die at sea since they first married. She's just glad she has a body to bury in the ground. Billy reports there will be a wake that evening, and Quoyle decides to publish a special edition of the newspaper dedicated to the life of Jack Buggit.

Everyone gathers at the Buggit house for Jack's wake. Wavey has convinced Quoyle to bring Bunny and Sunshine so they can better understand death. Quoyle isn't sure but finally agrees with Wavey. Quoyle promises not to tell his daughters Jack is "sleeping."

As Mrs. Buggit gazes at the coffin, she sees Jack move, and Dennis helps Jack sit up in the coffin. People are screaming. Bunny, now in the room, shouts, "He woke up!" Jack is taken to the hospital, and Quoyle drives Dennis and the family there. Some deem Jack's "resurrection" a miracle, though Dennis provides the medical explanation for his revival. The cold water "shut down his system," letting his heart beat very slowly. Dennis brings forms for his father to sign to transfer Jack's fishing licenses to his son.

Back at Quoyle's house, Wavey talks to Bunny about death, telling her it's not sleep, it's "when you can never wake up." Jack's "resurrection" makes it difficult for Wavey to make her point. Wavey tells Bunny her mother, Petal, is dead, but Bunny argues against it.

Jack is on the mend, Quoyle and Wavey get married, and Quoyle is finally living life to the full. He's so happy he feels anything in life is possible, even "love ... without pain."

Analysis

Epigraphs

  • The epigraph to Chapter 37 describes how slingstones are used to anchor lobster pots. Here, they refer to how Jack Buggit almost died while he was out lobstering.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 38 refers to the sled dog puppy Wavey got for Bunny to help the child get over her fear of dogs.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 39 refers to "new knots to discover." In this context knots represent new attachments, especially between Quoyle and Wavey, who will "tie the knot" in marriage.

Chapters

Quoyle's transformation is completed in these chapters. The narrator says "certain wheels had turned, certain cogs enmeshed" as Quoyle's new identity solidifies. Part of Quoyle's growing identity in Killick-Claw and environs is as Wavey's soon-to-be husband. While he realizes he does not love Wavey in the same way he loved Petal, his discussion with her about their past spouses' infidelities is a major turning point in his growth. She too has felt she deserved the pain her spouse inflicted in her. This realization brings Quoyle and Wavey emotionally closer and helps them identify with each other's pain and experience of love. Perhaps, he muses, love comes in "other colors" than "the basic black of none and the red heat of obsession."

Quoyle can now accept his physical self along with his emotional identity. Looming middle age doesn't frighten him, and he is almost proud of his strong body. Even his chin is now a statement of resolve, not an object of shame. When Quoyle confronts the school principal about Bunny's behavior toward the cruel teacher, he goes with "his chin jutting" in defiance.

Not all story lines are tied up neatly, however. Bunny's complicated fears are somewhat resolved with Wavey's wise gift of a puppy. But with Jack's miraculous "resurrection," it seems she might never understand the finality of death. With her intuitive prescience, however—seen in her dream of the destruction of the house—there is hope she will understand death one day.

The loss of the old house represents the Quoyle family's liberation from the chains of the past and especially from their connection to the violent and criminal Quoyles of old. With the ancestral house gone, they are free to live and thrive somewhere else. All of them—Quoyle, his daughters, and Aunt Agnis—have built up happy lives and integrated into the community. The decision to build a summer cottage on the point shows the Quoyles' respect for the greater community. They celebrate the loss of the old house and want to build anew on the same spot to develop a new tradition, one no longer based on criminality and violence.

Knots are symbols of attachment, and in Proulx's hands these attachments can be dangerous or life-giving. The "new knots" mentioned in the epigraph to Chapter 39 may refer to Jack's resurrection (his attachment to life) or to the upcoming marriage of Quoyle and Wavey (tying the knot of matrimony). However, in Jack's case knots also presage near catastrophe. For reasons not explained, Jack becomes entangled in a slingstone knot, which is used to anchor lobster traps. In this situation the knot proves nearly fatal to Jack. So too does the knot that attached Jack's knife to his belt. This knot comes undone as Jack tries to use the knife to cut himself free of the lobster line. However, Jack's near death at sea gives new hope to Jack's son, who will be given his father's fishing licenses. This will allow Dennis to remain tied—knotted— to his traditional way of life in Newfoundland.

Jack's rising up from his coffin will no doubt further confuse Bunny about death, but the event offers a positive tone to the end of the book. Readers may remember from the section above titled 'About the Author' that Proulx said she wanted to write a book with a happy ending after critics complained her previous writing was too dark. Well, she complied.

The epigraph to the last chapter states "there will always be new knots to discover." This references the new lives the characters will lead. The knots are knots of familial attachment, as well as identification with place. Quoyle and Wavey tie the knot of marriage. Quoyle will no doubt spend his life in Newfoundland working at the newspaper. The knots that bind them are those of identity and love, which "sometimes occurs without pain or misery."

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