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The Shipping News

Annie Proulx

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 13–15

Chapters 19–21

Summary

Chapter 16: Beety's Kitchen

Quoyle's daughters stay at Dennis and Beety Buggit's house during the day, and Quoyle loves picking them up, just to spend a little time at the Buggit's house. One typical day, Dennis tells a story about his friend who was attacked while fishing by a terribly strong tentacle. Dennis also talks about how his dad Jack has tried without avail to convince each and every one of his children to stay off the sea. Jack himself spends his days fishing while he tells the newspaper office he is sick. He has a kind of sixth sense about the sea, knew right away that his son Jesson had drowned, and knew where to find Dennis when he was lost at sea. At the end of Quoyle's visit, a man named Skipper Alfred comes to the door, having heard about Bunny's near fall from the roof. Knowing Bunny liked carpentry, he brought her a brass square to help her measure straight lines and cuts.

Chapter 17: The Shipping News

The chapter opens with Quoyle's article on Tough Baby, the Dutch ship made for Hitler. In the newsroom, Tert Card gives Quoyle a bad time for writing the ship profile instead of car wreck story. The next day, Jack asks to see Quoyle, and Quoyle expects that he will be in trouble for the story. Instead, Jack asks him to keep writing similar pieces; he wants Quoyle to start a shipping news column. Quoyle realizes it is the first time anyone has ever told him he did something right.

Chapter 18: Lobster Pie

Quoyle finds out that Wavey's son Herry has Down's Syndrome. Wavey has become a local advocate for Down's children, determined to help Herry reach his potential. She asks Quoyle to take her to the library twice a week, so she can check out books to read to Herry. Quoyle feels excited by the thought of seeing Wavey every Tuesday and Friday.

Wavey's father lives next door to her and has a garden of wooden sculptures. One day, Wavey invites Quoyle and his girls in for tea, but Bunny has a fit when she sees a wooden white dog, and Quoyle regretfully takes his daughters home instead. Sunshine asks why Herry does not have a father.

Quoyle takes his boat down to buy some lobsters. The aunt talks about making lots of fancy dishes with them, but Quoyle is certain she will end up resorting to the simplest idea. She decides on lobster pie, and invites Dawn Budgel, her young assistant, over for dinner. Meanwhile, Bunny is getting aggravated with her latest carpentry project, and yells at Quoyle to give her a ride in the boat. In the boat, she sees another white dog, but Quoyle dismisses her imaginative dog sightings.

Dawn comes over, and the aunt tries to prepare a nice, candlelit dinner. Dawn refuses the lobster meat, saying it reminds her of spiders. Bunny, who has always said the same, now tells Dawn that she loves "red spider meat." During the dinner, Quoyle learns that the people who owned the Hitler yacht took off without paying the aunt for the upholstery job. He also realizes that the aunt's furniture that was supposed to be shipped from Long Island still has not arrived.

Analysis

These chapters show a major turning point for Quoyle's character in the novel. Quoyle's initiative in writing the article on the Tough Baby, the Hitler ship, lands him a new assignment at the Gammy Bird; indeed, his story has encouraged Jack Buggit to include a whole new section in the paper, for which Quoyle will be responsible. Given the paper's quality, the reader may not see this as a valiant accomplishment. For Quoyle, however, it is the first time "he'd done it right."

However small the accomplishment, Quoyle's opinion of himself changes with this event. He goes from imagining Jack Buggit's rage (Quoyle imagines the newspaper headline "Reporter Bludgeoned") to feeling totally assured that he has done the right thing. Like a small child, Quoyle responds readily to approval. Since his childhood was void of any kind of praise (and more often condemnation), Quoyle seems to be re-living his childhood in some way, nurturing for the first time a sense of self-confidence and self-respect. His eagerness to praise and engage with his daughters shows his self-awareness about his own childhood.

Proulx alludes specifically to a symbolic childhood in Chapter 16 when Quoyle is sitting in Beety's kitchen. Not only does Quoyle get teary watching the scene of happy children (his own and Beety and Dennis's), but Quoyle also imagines Beety and Dennis as his own "secret parents." Beety's house nurtures a sense of safe space for Quoyle. Surrounded by the din of the T.V., warm bread, and plenty of stories, Quoyle feels a sense of refuge and protection. The house setting not only provides a more benign backdrop for Quoyle's story, but it also, according to Quoyle, brings out the best in him. He becomes "more of a father" but he also feels he does not have to hide his own vulnerability.

Quoyle's love interest also shows a good deal of growth in his character. He falls for a woman who first of all, wants his company (Wavey asks for him to give her a ride to the library, and invites him to her home), and secondly, loves her son, and enjoys children in general. Quoyle's deliberate attentiveness to his children is contrasted with Petal's deliberate neglect and cruelty. In a way, Petal was a kind of reincarnation of Quoyle's own cruel parents. This new attraction shows that Quoyle is capable of making behavioral changes that will lead to a life of less pain.

Quoyle's reaction to Dawn likewise shows a shift in the way he considers romantic love. The aunt seems to be subtly plotting to get Dawn and Quoyle to take an interest in each other. The reader knows from Quoyle's trip to the upholstery shop (Chapter 15) that Dawn is not at all attracted to Quoyle, and is even a bit rude. When Dawn shows up at their door, Quoyle immediately thinks of Petal. Petal is once again associated with the color silver. The association between Petal and Dawn could potentially catapult Quoyle into another masochistic obsession; that is, there seems to be the potential for more love torture, if Quoyle were to fall for Dawn.

Thinking of his life with Petal, Quoyle feels "a pang for this poor moth." This metaphor is loaded with meaning. Casting himself as the moth, Quoyle seems to suggest that he was attracted to Petal like a moth is attracted to light; it was an instinctual response that he could not seem to change. Moths are also associated with death. In these terms, the reader may consider that Quoyle, like the moth cannot help being attracted to that which is dead—literally, Petal, and figuratively, their romantic relationship. This thought also shows Quoyle's awareness of his own behavior. The poor moth seems to represent someone else, but has no role in his relationship with Dawn. Indeed, he shows no attraction whatsoever to this woman who dangerously seems to conjure an image of Petal.

These chapters also move the plot forward by delineating more of Bunny's encounters with the white dog. At this point, Bunny's fears are a disruption to all of their lives. These incidents create suspense; the reader begins to wonder what is engendering this fear, and whether Bunny is merely experiencing normal childhood insecurities, or if she has somehow inherited an evil from Quoyle's past.

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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 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"

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