The Shipping News

by: Annie Proulx

Chapters 7–9

Summary Chapters 7–9

The name "The Gammy Bird" is a bit ironic for this paper. The introduction to the chapter suggests that the gammy bird is the name Newfoundlers gave the common eider, which gathers in flocks for "sociable quacking sections." The author tells that the name "gammy" refers to the old habit of shouting the news from one ship to the next, when the ships passed one another. Although one can see how a newspaper might take this name for its symbolic significance, the folks at The Gammy Bird seem to dramatize the literal meaning of "gamming." That is, for any other paper the name would seem clever since "gamming" is a kind of primitive form of news-sharing, but this room engages itself very literally in "sociable quacking sessions." Very literally, these men are old fishermen, exchanging stories with one another.

The content of The Gammy Bird develops this idea further. The men who work there seem more interested in their own stories than in news. The paper is filled with advertisements, and the advertisements and the home section are the only parts of the paper that the reader hears about in detail. Both these sections serve to flesh out the Newfoundland setting and people—both are more about gossip and local color than any "newsworthy" information. Proulx again uses listing as a stylistic technique. The list of ads not only tells a great deal about Newfoundland life, but it also suggests that the ads are the most telling part of the paper—at the very least, they offer specific information that is more important to the reader than any other section.

The "news" stories fall into little more than two sensationalized categories: car wrecks, or "SA" (sexual abuse) stories. The idea reducing the perversity of sexual abuse to a kind of genre story again reveals Proulx's darkly comic tone. One can hardly believe that any paper prints four sexual abuse stories per issue, but in the world that Proulx fashions, it seems perfectly credible. The quirks and kinks of Proulx's subculture are reminiscent of Mark Twain's penchant for local color. The narrow confines of a regional way of life paradoxically give the writer more license to exaggerate. Like in any fictional work, the author is not asked to create a world that could be factual, but instead a world that the reader will believe.