The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Chapters 9–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9: The Mooring Hitch

Quoyle goes to the office of Diddy Shovel, the friendly and helpful harbormaster. Diddy shows Quoyle two loose-leaf notebooks—one listing arrivals and the other listing departures—of ships in the area. Quoyle gets writer's cramp as he copies ledger entries of the ship arrivals and departures out of the harbor. When Quoyle comments they should "get [Shovel] a computer," the harbormaster points out an alcove containing a computer and printer. Why does the harbormaster have two sets of data? "So when the storm roars and the power's out you'll look in the old books and it'll all be there."

Diddy says Quoyle "look[s] like [he] comes from here but don't sound it." He presses Quoyle for the history of his family in Newfoundland, but Quoyle is reluctant to speak about his past and changes the subject.

The harbormaster points out the Polar Grinder, a refrigerator ship in the harbor. He tells Quoyle its history, how it operates, and how the ship "drove a wedge" between Jack Buggit and his son, Dennis. Jack lost his eldest son, Jesson, at sea and ever since has tried to keep Dennis away from fishing and ships. But, after apprenticing as a carpenter, Dennis signs on to be the Polar Grinder's carpenter. When the ship is caught in a severe storm, it founders, and 27 men die, but somehow Dennis survives.

On his walk back to the office, Quoyle sees a small motor boat for sale. He knows nothing about boats, but bargains the price down from $100 to $50. He buys it because "it looked all right" to him. Quoyle rents a trailer to haul the boat home. As he's driving along, he notices a "calm, almost handsome" woman walking along the road, and they wave at each other.

At the newspaper office, Quoyle gets the shipping news ready for publication. Meanwhile, Billy examines Quoyle's boat. He comes back inside and asks Quoyle, "What did you buy that thing for? ... You bought a wallowing cockeyed bastard no good for nothing but coasting ten feet from shore when it's civil." Quoyle tries to defend himself, but Jack Buggit says, "It's a shitboat" that Quoyle should get rid of. Billy says Quoyle should have bought a "rodney," not a crappy kid's boat. Quoyle is stunned at his mistake, thinking the headline "Stupid Man Does Wrong Thing Once More." Although they criticize the boat, the newspapermen do not belittle or insult Quoyle for buying it. They understand he knows nothing about boats. He will consider Billy Pretty's suggestion to have a master boatbuilder make him a rodney craft.

Chapter 10: The Voyage of Nutbeem

When Quoyle gets back to the motel, Aunt Agnis tells him the girls are at day care and her dog, Warren, has died and will be buried at sea. She's also wangled better rooms in the motel for the family. Agnis explains how Dennis Buggit will fix the old house and build a dock, but he wants Quoyle to help. They discuss the improvements, such as insulation, that the old house needs. Quoyle tells her he's bought a boat that's "not worth a damn," to which Agnis replies, "you did the right thing."

A knock at the door reveals Nutbeem with a bottle of wine; and, Agnis, Quoyle, and Nutbeem decide to go out for dinner. Throughout, Nutbeem talks about boats—old, new, and foreign—and the merits of each. He's modeled his new boat on a Chinese junk, whose design he thinks is far superior to others. Nutbeem, in his long-winded discussion of the genesis and construction of his new boat, thrills in describing each detail. The discussion turns to the Polar Grinder and what happened to Dennis Buggit. For a long time, Dennis was believed dead. Then, Jack suddenly exclaimed, "I know where he is." Jack Buggit seemed to have a sixth sense or second sight. He went out to sea, found his son with broken arms, and brought him home, but threatened to "drown" him if he ever went to sea again. Dennis did go out fishing again—father and son have not spoken since.

Agnis buries her dog, Warren, by letting him float freely out to sea.

Analysis

Epigraphs

  • The epigraph to Chapter 9 describes a mooring hitch. This may refer both to the double-entry information kept at the harbormaster's office and the rather decrepit boat Quoyle impulsively buys. In the first instance a mooring hitch prevents vital information from getting lost when there's a blackout. In the latter case the hitch might refer to the inevitability of Quoyle's "good-for-nothing" boat slipping down and sinking.
  • The epigraph to Chapter 10 defines a "voyage" as an "outward and homeward passage." The epigraph refers to Nutbeem's voyage in his now-shipwrecked boat. In a sense he traveled "outward" until he shipwrecked off Newfoundland, where he has made a type of temporary home for himself.

Chapters

In these chapters, the theme of ancestry comes to the fore. Quoyle is immediately known locally as part of the old Quoyle clan, a clan known for its savage attacks on passing boats. But all the locals can tell this Quoyle is no thug. Because of his heritage and connection to the local community, he is immediately accepted as one of them, even though he had never set foot in the village in his life.

The people Quoyle meets at work or for work, such as the harbormaster, see the Newfoundland ancestry in him and respect and accept him for this reason. When Quoyle tries to tell Jack Buggit he knows nothing about ships and so can't write the shipping news, Buggit refutes him by saying, "Boats is in your family blood." What's most important for the paper is Quoyle's Newfoundland ancestry, which somehow endows him with an innate knowledge of boats and shipping so important to his native island.

Quoyle also begins to learn not all criticism is an insult to his sense of self-worth. The badge of acceptance he wears—his ancestral ties to the island and village—creates a safe space so sharp criticism of his choice of boat does not become ridicule. Still, Agnis continues to outshine him in strength and willpower. As the family member who is most comfortable in Newfoundland, she is most effective at interacting with the local people—her people—and now also Quoyle's.

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