The Shipping News | Study Guide

E. Annie Proulx

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The Shipping News | Motifs


Sentence Fragments

A primary stylistic feature of The Shipping News that distinguishes it from other novels is the extensive use of sentence fragments. The choppy prose mirrors the natural speaking pattern for most people, as people tend not to converse with one another in complete sentences, but rather in clipped phrases. This mode of communication is extended to the omniscient narrator and even into the expository passages of the novel.

In Chapter 1, Partridge, an early mentor to Quoyle, tells him, "What don't happen is also news, Quoyle." And the same can be said for this novel; what is left out conveys just as much as the words included. In some sentences, verbs are omitted (i.e., "At ten o'clock, Partridge.") while other sentences (i.e., "Red suspenders and a linen shirt.") don't include a subject . This narrative device focuses the reader's attention on important details.

The sentence fragments also signify the often frenzied pace of life. Life throws a lot of stuff at Quoyle simultaneously and it is up to him to make decisions quickly but responsibly, to react with a balance of self-interest and compassion.

Tall Tales and Oral Traditions

E. Annie Proulx stresses the traditional way of life in Newfoundland to a great extent through the old-time tales and stories told by the native Newfoundlanders in the novel. Billy Pretty, especially, relays seemingly endless anecdotes about old ways on the island. Clearly, the tales told about the past portray the value of oral tradition, which largely keeps Newfoundland traditions alive.

The author and the characters most likely exaggerate some of the tall tales in the novel. For example, the tales about the nefarious Quoyle ancestors probably inflate the likes of family-based gangs that caused turmoil and crime along the coastlines, a common feature of New England and Canadian coastal settlements in years past. Yet the tales of the sea, of survival, of ancestors, and of the long-gone way of life keep the flame of tradition alive for the loyal Newfoundlanders who refuse to leave or abandon it. These stories also offer a contrast to what sometimes seems like the empty acquisitiveness of modern life.

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