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The Shipping News

Annie Proulx

Chapters 4–6

Chapters 1–3

Chapters 7–9

Summary

Chapter 4: Cast Away

The aunt has convinced Quoyle to move himself and children with her to Newfoundland. After dreaming about Petal in a bread truck with a strange man, Quoyle realizes he needs a change in his life in order to move on. He calls Partridge to see if his old friend has any newspaper connections in Newfoundland, and Partridge, always anxious to help finds him a job.

Aunt, Quoyle, Bunny and Sunshine are on the ferry, and when the aunt sees the island, she begins to cry for her old homeland. She feels herself arriving as so many people have arrived to this island throughout history. She thinks of the "malefic spirits" that the harsh conditions here tend to breed. She also remembers her father dying, as the result of the failure of a knot tying a can hook.

Chapter 5: A Rolling Hitch

The aunt, Quoyle, and children are driving around the island, trying to get to Quoyle's Point, the location of the aunt's old home. The road to Capsize Cove, which is on the way, is old and muddy. Finally, they give up for the night, and decide to sleep the night on the side of the road. Bunny gets angry and tells Quoyle he is dumb, for which the aunt scolds her sharply.

The next day, as they head out again, Bunny dreams of blue beads that keep slipping off the string, even though she holds it with both hands. Meanwhile, the road turns to a good gravel and eventually, the group finds a concrete building, all locked up. They stop and have some tea, and the aunt sees the old house through the fog. When they climb up to it, they find it has deteriorated over the years; still, it is filled with memories for the aunt, and she is determined to fix it up. Bunny asks if Petal will come to live with them there, wishing she could wear her mother's blue beads. Alone at the back of the house, Bunny sees a white dog, that gives her a huge fright. When she comes to find Quoyle, he cannot find the animal anywhere.

Chapter 6: Between Ships

Since Quoyle's job is in Killick-Claw, the location of the house presents a problem for him. The aunt suggests he get a boat, since it would be easier to get to town across the bay, than get up the first part of the road. Since the house is not ready anyway, and the aunt wants to set up her own business (she is an upholstery maker), they decide to rent a room in town for awhile.

The aunt makes a list of what needs fixing in the house before they head back up to town. One the way, Quoyle stops for coffee and finds out the concrete structure they found used to be a glove factory. Caught in a snowstorm, the group cannot get back to Killick-Claw. They find the run-down Tickle Motel, where they stay the night. Sunshine wakes up with a nightmare, and the aunt comments that "the Old Hag's got her" referring to Petal. Quoyle feels equally tormented by Petal's ghost. The next day, they lock themselves in the hotel room, and with a dead telephone, finally resort to hanging a rescue sign in the window.

Analysis

These chapters introduce the novel's Newfoundland setting. As the site of Quoyle's ancestry and the aunt's family, Newfoundland is rich with memories and history. When Quoyle is a young boy, he fantasizes that he had been given to the wrong family, and thinks of a family with a changeling of the Quoyles coming to retrieve him. In a sense, the aunt and the Newfoundland shores are a kind of new family for Quoyle. Quoyle also sees a portrait in Ed Punch's office, who he guesses may be Ed's grandfather, and gets to thinking about ancestry. This kind of preoccupation with familial history anticipates the move to Newfoundland.

The three chapters that introduce the new setting also develop the aunt's character. The aunt, having lived in Newfoundland through her childhood and youth, feels a strong sense of home as she returns to the island. The first sight of Newfoundland is told through her eyes, as she thinks of all the peoples who came here, looking for cod and cities of gold, and locates herself among them. She too, the reader finds out in later chapters, is running from an old life, longing for a sense of home, just as Quoyle is.

The passage at the end of Chapter Four in which the aunt sees Newfoundland for the first time in fifty years, shows the way that landscape and place is always culturally inscribed. That is, the landscape is not a given that the character acts against, but the landscape is in fact produced by the prejudices and cultural values of the character. The harshness of the Newfoundland landscape is presented through the loving eyes of the aunt, to suggest that this landscape offers strength and character even in the midst of poverty and desperation. Her memories of the hard life are juxtaposed with her tears at seeing the place for the first time again; the reader feels the sense that the island must offer more than harsh conditions in order to inspire her longing for this place. When, at the end of the chapter, she wonders which has changed more, the place or herself, the narrator establishes the idea of the place as a dynamic entity, instead of an unchangeable backdrop. Newfoundland almost becomes like another character in the novel.

The aunt's Newfoundland upbringing is evident in her "stouthearted" personality. Indeed, she also gives the reader a sense that someone in this world knows that Quoyle deserves better. At the end of Chapter Four, it crosses her mind to throw Quoyle's father's ashes in the dumpster. She in a way acts out anger and disgust toward this man on behalf of Quoyle (although the reader has the sense that the aunt has her own history of pain with Guy). A similar situation arises when Bunny yells at Quoyle, and tells him he is dumb. The aunt immediately bellows back at her, refusing to allow her to speak with such disrespect. When Petal dies, it is the aunt who thinks to ask about collecting death insurance. As a sixty-five year old woman, she is also determined not only to fix up a totally deteriorated home, but also plans to start her own upholstery business on the island.

The dilapidated house seems to symbolizes the stronghold of the family's legacy on Newfoundland, the potential for a new life, and the threat that their new life is ruined before it has begun. The knot that used to hold the broom in place in the house has failed. Bunny's memory of her mother's beads also dramatizes the symbolic significance of knots and ties. Although she holds the string at both ends, the beads keep slipping away. In a symbolic sense, she cannot be tied or bound to her mother any longer. Even as Quoyle is tormented by memories of Petal, this detail suggests that their old life is fading away, and anticipates a brighter future.

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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 5 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"

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