The Shipping News

by: Annie Proulx

Quoyle

Characters Quoyle

Of all the characters in the novel, Quoyle undergoes the most extreme change and provides the dynamic force that drives the story forward. He is the hero-figure for the book. He saves not only himself, but his familial line as well. Of course, this change is not quite as optimistic as it may seem. Quoyle's extreme loneliness and misery in the beginning of the book lull the reader into a world in which the absence of pain resembles something like bliss. Quoyle is an obese, unconfident, unloved man who has been taught his whole life that he is a failure. Quoyle's transformation begins to take form as he makes his life on Newfoundland (metaphorically a new, found land for Quoyle). Assigned car wreck stories and the shipping news, Quoyle is forced to face two old fears daily: Petal's death and his fear of water. Quoyle himself dramatizes his own conviction that pain dulls when you see that "other people suffer as you suffer." When Quoyle takes the initiative in writing a profile of a ship in the harbor, he moves from reporting mundane car wrecks to writing his own column, a switch that allows him to prove himself as a worthy writer. Having the column seems to arm Quoyle with a voice of his own, instead of consigning himself to others' poor opinion of him. Quoyle slowly learns to stand up for himself, and also learns to take great pride in his work. With this larger sense of self- worth, Quoyle is able to stand up to the sins of his ancestors—specifically, the sins of his father—and overpowers a long blood line of hurt and malice.

Quoyle's character is introduced by way of his name; the first chapter introduction suggests that a coil can be rolled up and walked upon on the deck of a ship. Likewise, Quoyle is a walked-on character. Quoyle also does not have a first name throughout the entire book. Symbolically, this half of a name serves to connect him to his family, but not to distinguish him as an individual. He is, in effect, only his family. Finally, the first time he prints a newspaper issue under his new title of managing editor, the narrator gives him two initials to precede the last name, a small sign that he has established his own sense of self.

Quoyle's ultimate victory is indeed more an avoidance of misery than a true happiness, but he has nonetheless accomplished a drastic change. When the narrative begins, his physical appearance is his chief failure, and then one day his obesity protects him when he is catapulted overboard into the sea. The accomplishment seems to be that he is merely not dead, but his "chief failure" has saved his life. One day, he looks at himself in the mirror and does not find himself detestable. He finally realizes that with Wavey he will have a love without pain. This accumulation of double negatives eventually leads Quoyle to a more fulfilling life.