The Shipping News

by: Annie Proulx

Important Quotations Explained

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.