The Shipping News


Chapters 31–33

Summary Chapters 31–33

Tert Card's story also provides another example of Newfoundland oral literature, which tells more about a people and a place than it gives factual information. Stories like these produce an anthropological catalog that adds to the regionalism theme of the novel. Hell, according to this story, looks like a hole in the ice, and the devil, like a wild animal. Although heaven and hell may be considered universal images recognized by nearly every culture, the form they take among any given people tells of the particular people's fears, hopes, and values. Perhaps the idea that the hairy devil has to wash his pots an pans before coming back even speaks of Newfoundlanders proximity to manual labor and the physical world in general.

The decimation of Nutbeem's boat in Chapter 32 echoes Chapter 10: The Voyage of Nutbeem. The introduction to Chapter 10 defines a voyage in two ways: first, a roundtrip passage, and second, a passage from port to port. At that point in the novel, Nutbeem still plans on finishing his trip around the world. By Chapter 32 it is clear that Nutbeem's romantic dream of continuing his life at sea will not come to be. In a way, though, Nutbeem still represents the completed passage. Throughout the novel, he is associated with the lunar cycle. He oscillates between adrenaline rushes and quiet contemplation, like a waxing and waning moon. When he loses his boat, his loss does not last, but passes quickly into a new phase. He is determined to move on to Brazil, to as he says "smile, forget, and fly."

Quoyle's trip to his cousin's house is the climax of the subplot that develops around the ominous knots and the mysterious kinsman. The reader is virtually prepared for a shoot-out, having been prepared for this meeting for many chapters. The numerous incidents that involved Quoyle finding knotted twine, or Bunny seeing a white dog developed suspense for this subplot. When Quoyle (and the reader) finally arrive at the meeting point, the interaction is anticlimactic. Instead of a malicious criminal, Quoyle finds a weak, impoverished, crazy person, but even more importantly, Quoyle finds someone who resembles himself and his family.

The moment when Quoyle recognizes his own abhorrent chin in the face of the cousin is extremely ironic. Nolan's so-called crimes are "loneliness," "lovelessness, "genetic chemical jumble," or "betrayal." Quoyle may as well be naming his own life-diagnosis. Quoyle's greatest threat is not a malicious outside force (as every story of the Quoyles suggests), but his own self in pain. His most fearful enemy is his own debilitating weakness borne of loneliness or lovelessness. The reader recalls the important imagery in Chapter 20 describing Quoyle looking down into his ancestral cemetery: Proulx writes that he pulls his head back like a snake looking in a mirror. The moment in Nolan's home dramatizes a similar kind of mirroring.

The title of Chapter 33 ("Cousin") also provides insight into the relationship between Nolan and Quoyle. Chapter 17: The Shipping News actually uses a definition of "cousin" ("favored person aboard ship") as an introduction; Chapter 17 tells the story of how Quoyle landed himself his job as the shipping news columnist. In this context, Quoyle fit the definition of "cousin" that preceded the chapter. Chapter 33 tells the story of Quoyle meeting up with the literal "cousin." Both men are therefore, called by the same name at different points in the novel. The "cousin" that everyone likes is the alter ego of the madman borne of loneliness and rejection.

Colors act symbolically throughout these chapters and in the novel as a whole. In Chapter 33 when Quoyle goes to see his cousin, Quoyle expresses his pity for him by thinking that he probably sees "bloody rain and black snow"; Quoyle's pity is based on an idea that the cousins world exists not in clear and white (rain and snow) but in red and black.