Skip over navigation

The Shipping News

Annie Proulx

Chapters 19–21

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 22–24

Summary

Chapter 19: Good-bye, Buddy

Tert Card sometimes sent everyone out of the newsroom, and one day Billy Pretty, Nutbeem and Quoyle go out for fish and chips. Nutbeem reports having a deluge of sexual abuse stories. The men swap stories, and Billy invites Quoyle out to Gaze Island, a place Quoyle has not yet sent. Billy also explains how Killick-Claw grew into a community, usurping the role that Misky Bay once served. During the war, so much ammunition and cables were dropped underwater near Misky Bay, that no one wants to anchor his boat in the harbor. Quoyle then reads his friends another article he wrote about a man getting electrocuted on board a boat called Buddy.

Chapter 20: Gaze Island

Billy Pretty and Quoyle go out to Gaze Island. On the way, Billy points out all names of the rocks sticking out of the water. One, called the Komatik-Dog, looks like a sled dog and is located right at the end of Quoyle's point. The legend was that the dog would wait for a wreck, and eat the drowning people. Billy tells Quoyle stories on the way, too. First, he says that Quoyle's only other living relative Nolan lives around there and wants the family house. Billy also tells Quoyle that Omaloor Bay is named after the loony, dim-witted, and murderous Quoyles. Billy explains to Quoyle how Quoyle's ancestors dragged the green house onto the Point over the ice a hundred years before.

Billy Pretty grew up on Gaze Island, and is actually Jack Buggit's second cousin. He explains that the Islanders were known for their knowledge of fishing and volcanoes. Inhabited by only five families, they were an incestuous group. Now, the island is deserted. Billy and Quoyle go ashore, and Billy finds his father's tombstone and repaints it. Quoyle is reminded of his father , who loved fruits. Quoyle thinks he should have been a farmer. Billy, too had a father who should have been a farmer. He was in an orphanage in England, and was sent over to work on a farm in Canada. When the ship got in a wreck, a few boys, including Billy's father, were found by the people on Gaze Island. The Pretty's adopted Billy, hiding him from the people who came to take him on to Canada. It was a good thing, since Billy's father received many miserable letters from his friends who made it to Canada, detailing abusive working conditions on the farms. Billy's father eventually made sure that all of Gaze Island could read and write. Billy tells Quoyle that his father used to say that every man had four women in his heart: the "Maid in the Meadow," "Demon Lover," "Stouthearted Woman," and the "Tall and Quiet Woman." Billy himself never married due to a "personal affliction" which he tried to keep secret.

Before they leave, Billy shows Quoyle another cemetery where all of Quoyle's ancestors —pirates and plunderers—are buried. He shows Quoyle a bed of flat rocks where the green house once stood before the Quoyles hauled it to Quoyle Point. They were run out on account of their refusal to attend Pentecostal services.

Chapter 21: Poetic Navigation

The fog is coming in as Quoyle and Billy head back. They find an expensive- looking suitcase on one of the rocks, and they begin to smell something rotten. Billy is a good navigator, recognizing his route by the rocks. He decides that they will pull into Desperate Cove to wait for the fog to lift. When the get ashore, they grab a meal before Quoyle breaks the lock on the suitcase. Inside is the head of Bayonet Melville.

Analysis

Chapter 19 again shows Quoyle interacting and living his life within the confines of a safe structure or place. As the newsroom men sit and swap stories, it is obvious that Quoyle is an integral figure in their community. Billy Pretty invites him on a day trip, and the friends willingly listen while Quoyle proudly reads his news story. Having the inside scoop on ships and boats seems to help Quoyle establish himself among his peers. (Billy's and Nutbeem's reactions to the story are telling about their different characters. Billy sensitively calls the story a "shame," while Nutbeem in a startlingly funny way, exclaims that Jack will like it for the "blood, boats, and blowups.")

Chapter 20 further develops the theme of ancestry. We learn that Jack Buggit called up Quoyle's references before hiring him to make sure Quoyle was not a murderer. Ironically, Buggit knew that Quoyle was associated with murderers before Quoyle did. Quoyle continues to learn from the locals in Killick-Claw about his own family. This idea points to the importance of place and setting in this novel. Quoyle's personal journey in understanding himself and his family is in a way created by the setting. That is, Quoyle did not really know all he still had to learn about his history until he arrived in Newfoundland and started hearing remarks here and there about his own ancestry.

The scene at Gaze Island dramatizes this connection between Quoyle's conflict and setting. Going to the site of Billy Pretty's father's grave—and the site of his ancestors' home—conjures up images of Quoyle's father and demands that Quoyle revisit painful memories once again. The images of Quoyle's father again suggest the quiet violence that characterized Quoyle's childhood; the memory of the beating Quoyle unfairly received for stealing his brother's blueberries is a good example. Seeing the grave of Billy Pretty's father symbolically reopens Quoyle's father's grave.

Although Gaze Island is named for its high lookout, we should recognize the symbolic meaning the name carries. The island forces Quoyle to "gaze" into his family's history, and into his own traumatic past. The image of a mirror in this chapter further affirms the symbolic significance of "Gaze" Island: when seeing his ancestors' cemetery for the first time, Quoyle's head jerks back "like a snake surprised by a mirror." In this scenario, the mirror is the cemetery—literally markers of Quoyle's family history. This simile also casts Quoyle as a snake, which calls attention to the malicious wildness that is associated with the Quoyle family.

The excerpt from The Ashley Book of Knots that precedes Chapter 20 could be read as an allusion to Quoyle's relationship with his family. His ancestors were a band of pirates, and he, like the pirates' prisoner, is still somehow held in their grip. The excerpt presents a riddle: how do the prisoners free themselves from the pirates? This riddle represents Quoyle's same dilemma. The knots that tie the prisoners' boat to the pirate ship symbolize the way that Quoyle is tied to his past. He must find a way to live a life without pain (free himself) despite his cruel and unusual ancestry.

The story of the Quoyle's house adds another tale to the vast annals of myth and folk history on Newfoundland. We should appreciate the irony that the Quoyles were ultimately driven out because of their disinterest in joining the Pentecostal Church. This detail reaffirms the quirky characteristics of Newfoundland folk; again, we feel pulled out of his or her reality, and thrust into a place in which essentially murderers are tolerated until they refuse to put on their church shoes. The novel requires that one look at the "truth" of oral literature. One might question the validity of pulling an entire house on an iceberg like a sled, for instance, but the novel values local legends as reflections of a culture and a people.

These chapters also help develop Billy Pretty's character. Billy grows as a sensitive character in his diligence about his father's grave, and his kind remembrances of the old man. He also seems aware that Quoyle is discovering his own past, and concedes that many people were plunderers in the old days on Gaze Island, not just the Quoyles. The name "Pretty" also becomes more significant in these chapters, as Billy shows himself to be appreciative of aesthetic values. He carefully decorates his father's grave, and even his descriptions of the rocks show his capacity to see the creativity in their names. His "poetic navigation"—navigation based on a few rhyming couplets—implies that navigating is perhaps as much an art as a science. Billy uses his skills to maneuver in whatever safe path he can figure given the conditions.

Finally, the suitcase carrying Bayonet's head refers to the "Dutch cringle" that titles Chapter 13. The suitcase has a rope handle that could well be tied in a cringle knot and of course, it comes from the Dutch ship. At this point, one can guess that Silver, Bayonet's wife, is probably responsible for his decapitation, just from the nature of their belligerent relationship. We recall that Petal is connected with silver throughout the book; the two women's capacity to cause violent suffering is parallel. It is also important to note that Billy teases Quoyle for acting like a "wracker"—like his ancestors—when he pulls the suitcase off the rock, and claims it for himself.

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 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"

Follow Us