The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: The Gammy Bird

Quoyle drives to the offices of The Gammy Bird, the local Killick-Claw newspaper. Tert Card, the managing editor, invites Quoyle in to "meet the band of brigands" who work there. Card introduces Quoyle to the young Nutbeem, a British castaway in Newfoundland who writes the foreign news, and old Billy Pretty, who does the "Home News" page. The three newsmen insult each other in a familiar, friendly way intended for amusement, not cruelty. They speak to Quoyle as if he's already one of them. They tell him Jack Buggit, the owner of the paper, is out of the office so Quoyle must wait until Buggit returns to learn what his job will entail.

Jack Buggit stays away for days. Quoyle passes the time reading the phone book and back issues of the newspaper, especially the must-read gossip column, "Scruncheons." On Quoyle's second Monday at work, Jack Buggit finally appears. Quoyle shakes his hand, which feels like a "leather pot holder." In his office, Buggit regales Quoyle with hair-raising tales of his ancestors and their "cannibalism," among other questionable survival skills. Living in Newfoundland was "a hard life ... Terrible hard in them old days." For him, modern times are not much of an improvement over the old days when fishing supported the islanders. Jack tells a long, involved story of how government plans for bringing industry to Newfoundland failed and left the islanders worse off than ever.

Jack tells Quoyle his job will be to cover "local car wrecks ... [with] pictures," as well as "the shipping news." Quoyle is aghast at having to write about and photograph the very thing that killed his wife, Petal. He's also worried he knows nothing about the shipping news. Quoyle is so stunned, Nutbeem says, "You're not going to go weepy on us, are you?"

Chapter 8: A Slippery Hitch

Back at the motel, Quoyle tells Aunt Agnis "he can't handle the job" at the paper. "I can't cover car wrecks. You know why," Quoyle says to Agnis. She insists the job will help Quoyle get over his grief for Petal. "What we have to get over, somehow we do. Even the worst things."

Bunny and Sunshine are fighting, cooped up in the motel with nothing to occupy their time constructively. Aunt Agnis is eager to reopen her upholstery business and has found possible childcare for the two girls. The aunt has been looking for a local house or apartment rental, but has been unsuccessful. She wants to hire a carpenter, Jack Buggit's son Dennis, to fix up the old family house. Agnis explains to Quoyle it makes the most sense to live in the old house on the point and buy a boat to cross the bay; it would be the most cost-efficient answer to their housing question and a boat is the fastest way to get around the island.

Back at the newspaper, Quoyle tells Nutbeem, "I'll move back to the States before I buy a boat." Nutbeem echoes Aunt Agnis, telling Quoyle how practical a boat is on an island "that's all coast and cove and little road," before he is sent out to cover a fire. When Tert Card phones, Quoyle tells him he has covered a truck wreck, but Card is waiting for the shipping news, which Quoyle has to get in person. Quoyle gets directions to the harbormaster's office.

Analysis

Epigraphs

  • The epigraph to Chapter 7 refers to the eider duck, also called the gammy bird, which is the name of the newspaper Quoyle is hired to write for.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 8 refers to a "slippery hitch" as being a knot necessary for "small boats ... that are easily capsized," such as the small, open boat Quoyle is advised to get to help him travel to and from his house and town.

Chapters

The newspaper, The Gammy Bird, is well named, as the duck "gather[s] in flocks for sociable quacking sessions," like the newspaper staff. Each employee speaks freely with coworkers, often in long monologues or in good-natured banter. In fact, the workplace is pretty much a continuous "sociable quacking session" among the men who work there, although Jack Buggit and Tert Card make sure everyone gets his work done by the time the paper goes to press. At first, Quoyle is insecure amidst the banter and struggles with his insecurities.

Storytelling and the oral tradition are on full display in these and other chapters, as it is in much of Proulx's writing. Her characters tell the stories, some tragic and others humorous, which illuminate their distinct ways of life. Jack Buggit rails at length about how life used to be and how the government has ruined it all. Later, Nutbeem rhapsodizes about the wonderful design and craftsmanship of Chinese junks and why he's building his new boat based on this ancient model. The harbormaster begins an intricate telling of the story of Dennis Buggit and the Polar Grinder, but is then interrupted by a phone call. Only later does Nutbeem complete the tale of Dennis's rescue and the resulting rift with his father.

Proulx brings to light another aspect of Newfoundland culture in these chapters: the way the people value traditional ways over modern ones. Even though Nutbeem is not a native Newfoundlander, when he speaks of his destroyed boat, he becomes nostalgic for the old-fashioned ways of boat construction. He notes "The world was all knots and lashings once—flex and give." Billy Pretty adds, "That's how the old ... sleds was made. There wasn't a nail in them. All lashed with sinew and rawhide." The author does not take sides in the conflict between traditional and modern ways, but clearly illuminates the way it grips all the characters.

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