The Shipping News

Summary

Chapters 4–6

Summary Chapters 4–6

Analysis

These chapters introduce the novel's Newfoundland setting. As the site of Quoyle's ancestry and the aunt's family, Newfoundland is rich with memories and history. When Quoyle is a young boy, he fantasizes that he had been given to the wrong family, and thinks of a family with a changeling of the Quoyles coming to retrieve him. In a sense, the aunt and the Newfoundland shores are a kind of new family for Quoyle. Quoyle also sees a portrait in Ed Punch's office, who he guesses may be Ed's grandfather, and gets to thinking about ancestry. This kind of preoccupation with familial history anticipates the move to Newfoundland.

The three chapters that introduce the new setting also develop the aunt's character. The aunt, having lived in Newfoundland through her childhood and youth, feels a strong sense of home as she returns to the island. The first sight of Newfoundland is told through her eyes, as she thinks of all the peoples who came here, looking for cod and cities of gold, and locates herself among them. She too, the reader finds out in later chapters, is running from an old life, longing for a sense of home, just as Quoyle is.

The passage at the end of Chapter Four in which the aunt sees Newfoundland for the first time in fifty years, shows the way that landscape and place is always culturally inscribed. That is, the landscape is not a given that the character acts against, but the landscape is in fact produced by the prejudices and cultural values of the character. The harshness of the Newfoundland landscape is presented through the loving eyes of the aunt, to suggest that this landscape offers strength and character even in the midst of poverty and desperation. Her memories of the hard life are juxtaposed with her tears at seeing the place for the first time again; the reader feels the sense that the island must offer more than harsh conditions in order to inspire her longing for this place. When, at the end of the chapter, she wonders which has changed more, the place or herself, the narrator establishes the idea of the place as a dynamic entity, instead of an unchangeable backdrop. Newfoundland almost becomes like another character in the novel.

The aunt's Newfoundland upbringing is evident in her "stouthearted" personality. Indeed, she also gives the reader a sense that someone in this world knows that Quoyle deserves better. At the end of Chapter Four, it crosses her mind to throw Quoyle's father's ashes in the dumpster. She in a way acts out anger and disgust toward this man on behalf of Quoyle (although the reader has the sense that the aunt has her own history of pain with Guy). A similar situation arises when Bunny yells at Quoyle, and tells him he is dumb. The aunt immediately bellows back at her, refusing to allow her to speak with such disrespect. When Petal dies, it is the aunt who thinks to ask about collecting death insurance. As a sixty-five year old woman, she is also determined not only to fix up a totally deteriorated home, but also plans to start her own upholstery business on the island.

The dilapidated house seems to symbolizes the stronghold of the family's legacy on Newfoundland, the potential for a new life, and the threat that their new life is ruined before it has begun. The knot that used to hold the broom in place in the house has failed. Bunny's memory of her mother's beads also dramatizes the symbolic significance of knots and ties. Although she holds the string at both ends, the beads keep slipping away. In a symbolic sense, she cannot be tied or bound to her mother any longer. Even as Quoyle is tormented by memories of Petal, this detail suggests that their old life is fading away, and anticipates a brighter future.