Skip over navigation

The Shipping News

Annie Proulx

Important Quotations Explained

Chapters 37–39

Key Facts

Suddenly he could see his father, see the trail of ground cherry husks leading from the garden around the edge of the lawn where he walked while he ate them. The man had a passion for fruit. Quoyle remembered purple-brown seckle pears the size and shape of figs, his father taking the meat off with pecking bites, the smell of fruit in their house, litter of cores and peels in the ashtrays, the grape cluster skeletons, peach stones like hens' brains on the windowsill, the glove of banana peel on the car dashboard. In the sawdust on the basement workbench galaxies of seeds and pits, cherry stones, long white date pits like spaceships. . . . The hollowed grapefruit skullcaps, cracked globes of tangerine peel.

This quotation comes from the scene in which Quoyle and Billy Pretty are on Gaze Island, and Quoyle is moved to remember his father . This passage that details Quoyle's father's love for fruits offers an abundance of rich images that speak to the father's character. Fruit almost always functions symbolically in literature; it symbolizes fertility, offspring, and sexuality. In this case, the metaphors and similes used to describe the fruit are wrought with a startling violence. Nearly every image is not of the fruits themselves but of the remnants of the fruits, what is left when the eatable portion is devoured. The contrast between life and death is profound: the similes and metaphors suggest a kind of eerie death even while describing something that conventionally represents fertility and life. The grape clusters are "skeletons," the citrus peels "skullcaps" and "cracked globes." The remnants of the fruits seem to form a picture a destroyed body whose parts are strewn about. Besides the skeletal grapes and images of cracking skulls, there are banana peel gloves (like hands) and peach pits like brains.

At a certain level, one must consider that Quoyle is the "fruit" that was the union of his father and mother. The image of Quoyle's father "taking the meat off with pecking bites" alludes to the way the father pecked at Quoyle, destroyed his sense of self piece by piece. Even the trail of cherry husks can be seen symbolically as the series of troubles that the father—through his cruelty and neglect—left Quoyle to confront. In addition to the symbolic layering in the paragraph, it also simply characterizes the father as a slob, who seems to have no sense of the detrimental effect of his behavior.

'There's two ways of living here now. There's the old way, look out for your family, die where you was born, fish, cut your wood, keep a garden, make do with what you got. Then there's the new way. Work out, have a job, somebody tell you what to do, your brother's in South Africa, your mother's in Regina, buy every goddamn cockadoodle piece of Japanese crap can. Leave home. Go off to look for work. And some has a hard time of it. . . . Now we got to deal with Crock-Pots and consumer ratings, asphalt driveways, lotteries, fried chicken franchises, Mint Royale coffee and gourmet shops, all that stuff.'

These lines are spoken by Jack Buggit after Tert Card leaves town to take a job working for an oil supply company. He is explaining to Quoyle the new "lifestyles" section of the newspaper that Quoyle will launch; this section will now address both the old lifestyle, and the new. The quotation references the of the uncertainty surrounding social and economic change. Jack's tone when talking about the "old" ways is much more benevolent than his snide impatience with the "new" way of life. The old types look out for their kin while the new ones buy "goddamn cockadoodle … crap." The old way dramatizes values of rugged individualism, familial loyalty, and subsistence living, while the new way suggests separation from family, alienation of the worker, and a global trading system.

The words used to describe the old way of life are far fewer in number than the words describing the new economic and social order; the paragraph in this way actually acts out the very difference that is its subject—a more complex life requires a longer explanation, has more facets that must be included and comprehended. Although Jack Buggit shows a strong bias for the old way of life, his general point is that they have to change the section of the paper that deals with lifestyle in order to address the change. This passage shows him anticipating the inevitability of change; like it or not, it's coming and a newspaper—just like the people it serves—will have to acknowledge this new way of life.

Did he believe that pap, the aunt wondered? She guessed that this was Quoyle's invention, this love-starved Petal. Took one look at the arctic eyes, the rigidly seductive pose of Petal's photograph, Quoyle's silly rose in a water glass beside it, and thought to herself, there was a bitch in high heels.

These lines appear right after Quoyle learns of Petal's car accident, when the aunt comes to pick up Guy's ashes. At a point in the novel, when we may be growing impatient with Quoyle's softness, the aunt shows up as if to provide a little backbone to Quoyle, but also to the narrative in general. She immediately recognizes the situation for what it is: a cruel woman taking advantage of Quoyle's soft vulnerability. Without the entry of the aunt's capable personality in Chapter 3, the reader might lose interest in a world so hyperbolically cruel and troubled. In fact, Quoyle's character is somewhat enabled by the aunt's, at least at the beginning of the book. She provides some stability for the novel, in that her response to people is more typically critical than Quoyle's. Quoyle's submissiveness is extreme to the point of seeming unrealistic. As in a magic-realism kind of genre, the unrealistic elements of the narrative must be bolstered by realism that can serve as a benchmark for the reader. The aunt keeps the reader engaged by representing a more conventional response to the other character's actions and personalities.

Quoyle lay in the heather and stared after her, watching the folds of her blue skirt erased by the gathering distance. The aunt, the children, Wavey. He pressed his groin against the barrens as if he were in union with the earth. His aroused senses imbued the far scene with enormous importance. The small figures against the vast rock with the sea beyond. All the complex wires of life were stripped out and he could see the structure of life. Nothing but rock and sea, the tiny humans and animals against them for a brief time. . . . Everything, everything seemed encrusted with portent.

This passage occurs when Quoyle and Wavey are out berry picking. Wavey has run away from him, fearing physical intimacy. This is a moment of epiphany for Quoyle, as he suddenly feels himself at a higher spiritual plane, a more lofty of life purpose. Although it is a little ironic that Quoyle feels this way after Wavey has essentially rejected him, the reader should recognize the importance of Quoyle finding something bigger in his life than his past. He originally wanted to come to Newfoundland partly for the harsh living conditions: he wanted something to push against, to make him work. The reader should also recall the comfortable mediocrity that Quoyle fell into working for the newspaper in Mockingburg. Quoyle felt challenged and energized reporting on school board meetings and the decisions of local authorities. Now, Quoyle is thrust into a bigger world—the vastness of past loves and new loves, the sea, the endlessness of time.

For if Jack Buggit could escape from the pickle jar, if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible? Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat's blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, and that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.

These lines come at the very end of the novel, and lift the narrative into a final, imaginative state that belies the gloom and misery of Quoyle's old life. The list of phenomena that makes up this paragraph frame the last sentence in an interesting way. The reversal of natural processes (a dead bird coming to life, cold fire, forest in the ocean) is such a far-fetched idea that these sentences can only be considered in a metaphoric, imaginative way. The last sentence, though—the idea of love without pain— in the context of fantasy, seems less unlikely. And that seems to be all that the book needs to achieve—"less unlikely"—a state of double negative. The novel ends with the hope of love "without pain or misery." Mrs. Buggit has been spared a tragedy (Jack is "not dead") and Quoyle has been granted a woman who is not hurtful. Still, the lofty, imaginative tone gives one a sense of whimsy in a life that has been anything but whimsical. The bit of wind inside the knot provides perhaps the most optimistic image, suggesting that Quoyle is undoing himself from a place of binding suffering.

More Help

Previous Next
Question

by Anki145, August 23, 2012

Why doesn't the "The Sun Clouds Over" chapter have a "Chapter 30:" in front of it like all of the rest of the chapters do?

2 Comments

2 out of 6 people found this helpful

Spelling mistake

by serg06, February 26, 2014

Chapter 36, second paragraph, first sentence: "diromg" instead of "during".

Spelling mistake

by serg06, February 26, 2014

Chapter 37, paragraph 3, sentence 2: "turn7"

See all 4 readers' notes   →

Follow Us