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The Shipping News

Annie Proulx

Chapters 25–27

Chapters 22–24

Chapters 28–30

Summary

Chapter 25: Oil

Stopping for breakfast on his way to work, Quoyle finds Tert Card and Billy Pretty also at the restaurant. Card is suffering from canker sores and is acting irritable. He and Billy are in a quarrel over oil prospects in Canada. Tert Card explains to Quoyle that the McGonigle field was an oil reserve that was discovered in 1980 off the coast of Newfoundland. Card cannot wait for the economic boom that will hit when oil reserve is ready to be harvested. Billy, on the other hand, expects that outsiders, big international companies, will take the best of the reserve just as outsiders have all along corrupted the Newfoundland way of life. The spills will kill the last of the cod; Billy laments the exploitation of Newfoundland's natural resources. He reminisces about the old way of life, while Tert Card bitterly argues the benefits of technological advancements, telling them "'oil is strong and fish is weak.'"

Quoyle writes his column about a recent oil tanker spill. He begins by talking about a photograph of eight old-fashioned fishing boats, and ends by saying that no one would want to hang up a picture of an oilrig. Tert Card, upon reading the draft, hangs a picture of an oil tanker behind his desk. He proceeds to rewrite Quoyle's column into a short propaganda piece for oil tankers, and prints it along with his oil tanker picture. When Quoyle sees the paper, he becomes enraged. Jack Buggit tells Quoyle to keep writing his column as he wishes, and Tert Card to lay off Quoyle's work.

Chapter 26: Deadman

Quoyle, staying by himself in the old family house, is writing a column about the origin of the Plimsoll loading marks—the lines on vessels that show what level of load is safe for a vessel. At night, Quoyle has more nightmares about Petal, and in the morning, he finds a curious piece of knotted twine on his way out to take a walk to the end of the point. Once at the edge, he feels as if he is at the end of the world, staring down into a tumultuous sea. He sees some caves, the rock shaped like a dog, and a body in a yellow suit, floating. Quoyle goes out in his boat to try to save the man, but his inexperience and precarious boat cause him to capsize. He plunges under water and then, when he comes up, finds a cooler that had been in his boat to use as a floatation device. He has delusional thoughts that the cooler is filled with red coals keeping him warm. Eventually, Jack Buggit finds him, and pulls him into his boat. Jack takes him home to Mrs. Buggit, who has much experience caring for near-drowned men, and tells Quoyle he would have died had he not had so much fat to keep his body insulated. Mrs. Buggit is reminded of the terrible storm that took her son, Jesson.

Chapter 27: Newsroom

Billy Pretty comes into the newsroom and tells everyone that the floating man in the yellow suit was found to be headless, and is believed to be Bayonnet Melville's decapitated body. Nutbeem gives a monologue of the week's sexual abuse stories; he also says he is planning to leave Newfoundland soon. Quoyle has given Tert Card an article about a man who caught exactly nine cod this season, and just as he was about to sell his boat, the vessel sunk, loaded with empty nets. Nutbeem and Quoyle go out to lunch, and Nutbeem comments that Jack Buggit has a tormenting way about giving assignments.

Quoyle and Wavey are spending more and more time together. She makes little wooden trinkets to sell in gift shops down the coast. Although she is plain, her whole house is filled with colors.

Analysis

The excerpt from The Ashley Book of Knots that introduces Chapter 25 is a metaphor for the conflict between Tert Card and Quoyle and the theme of social change in the novel as a whole. The excerpt explains how to hang a picture on a wall if an outside force keeps tilting them askew. The introduction is referenced directly in the chapter when Tert Card's picture of the oil tanker falls askew. This detail seems to symbolize Tert Card's ultimate defeat in the newsroom quarrel—he is scolded for rewriting Quoyle's opinionated column on the oil spill, and Quoyle is reassured that in the future, his column will run just how he writes it. The tilted photograph seems to symbolize Tert Card's tenuous hold on his authority at The Gammy Bird. On a broader level, the chapter introduction helps develop the theme of social change in the novel. Like the picture that is tilted as a result of outside forces, Newfoundland is undergoing massive socioeconomic changes due to the power and whim of the outside world. The old way of life is in essence being knocked askew.

Nutbeem and Quoyle's conversation concerning Jack's uncanny way of assigning stories addresses the theme of pain in the novel. Nutbeem presents a philosophical quandary concerning pain and healing. Do human beings heal by psychologically locating themselves as far away from their painful memories as possible, or by confronting the pain by repeatedly revisiting it? Indeed, the way in which the newsroom characters have been assigned roles hardly seems merely coincidental. Quoyle had to cover car wrecks right after his wife's accident; Nutbeem, sexually abused as a boy, writes the abuse stories; and Billy Pretty, who has never been married, does home and hearth stories.

Quoyle comments that Jack does the same to himself, fishing every day when practically his whole family died at sea. Proulx seems to imply that inevitably all human beings come face-to-face with their most painful memories or deepest insecurities. In fact, people even choose to live lives that allow them to act out their suffering. Quoyle comments, "it's easier to die if others around you are dying." This line suggests that there is a kind camaraderie in the way human beings are constantly reliving painful memories; somehow, watching others suffer as you have suffered, makes you feel less alone.

Chapter 25 is a turning point for Quoyle. When Quoyle yells at Tert Card after seeing the oil tanker rewrite, Billy Pretty understandably feels surprise. This is perhaps the first scene in which Quoyle unapologetically stands up for himself, and he does so with passion and conviction. In fact Quoyle gives an eloquent defense of himself; he not only expresses anger for the first time in the novel, but he also shows that he is totally aware of why he is in the right. One might compare this passage to the scene in Chapter 1 in which Partridge helps Quoyle rewrite his article. In the first passage, Quoyle not only submissively agrees with Partridge, but he also has no idea how Partridge changes make for a better story. The scene with Tert Card shows that Quoyle is growing personally and professionally. At the beginning of the book, Quoyle has learned to "separate his feelings from his life," but this incident shows that Quoyle has learned to do precisely the opposite—to involve his feelings in his life, to essentially, feel pride.

By including Quoyle's columns within the narrative, Proulx is able to explore his character and its relationship to the theme of social and economic change. Quoyle is taking on a role for himself—he identifies as the writer of this column, and stands by his own opinions. The oil tanker column, the article about the failing cod fisherman, and the article on the Plimsoll loading marks all show a sense of social conscience. Quoyle's journalism is a vehicle for social activism. The Plimsoll article specifically exposes the lack of safety regulations that caused lives to be lost on commercial ships; this subject alludes back to the situation with Wavey's husband. Wavey told Quoyle that her husband died on the oil rig as a result of the absence of governmental safety precautions.

The knotted twine that Quoyle finds before he leaves on his walk is most likely another evil omen left by Nolan. The chapter introduction tells that the name for a loose end of rope is "deadman" and indeed Quoyle notices a fraying end of twine as he seeks out the dead man, and right before he has his own close call with death.

More Help

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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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