The Shipping News

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Chapters 10–12

Summary Chapters 10–12

At the end of the chapter, Bunny finds a grain of sand, and presents it to the aunt as the tiniest thing in the world. When Sunshine sees it, she accidentally blows it away. Bunny starts to go after her, but the aunt intervenes, explaining that there is plenty of sand for everyone.


Story-telling and story-tellers are ubiquitous in this novel and establish a sense of mythological history connected with Newfoundland. Already, after only a few days in Newfoundland, Quoyle has heard lengthy accounts from Jack Buggit, Diddy Shovel, and Nutbeem. The story within a story is an important stylistic technique that Proulx invokes.

The tone and content of Nutbeem's story offer clues into a collective value system. The story of his boat can be seen as just one small chapter in a whole work of oral history. Nutbeem's story, like many others, shows the constant significance of ships and shipping to this people. The story of how he acquiring his sail, for instance—finding a junk sail at Sotheby's auction in good condition for a good price—does not really impress the reader as much, as Nutbeem might hope. Instead, the reader finds it curious that to this man, the junk sale was nothing short than a "miracle." One is not meant to find the stories themselves as engaging as the way they are told, and the sense of place they establish. The reader recalls the moment when Jack Buggit and Billy Pretty see Quoyle's pathetic boat for the first time. The fact of their disappointment is not nearly so interesting as the way their horrified reaction manifests itself in a fit of passionate disparagement.

These chapters also help develop Quoyle's and the aunt's characters. Chapter 11 offers an endearing picture of Quoyle as a father, as he enjoys letting his girls help him work. He is kind and encouraging, praising Bunny for her remarkable strength and telling them bedtime stories. This portrait of him is in direct contrast to his own parents, who did not even bother calling one of their sons before committing suicide. Of course the scene at the end of the chapter in which Bunny seems likely to fall off the roof, shows Quoyle as a compassionate and devoted father. Quoyle always feels like he is doing everything "wrong," and in this moment sees his child "on the wrong side of everything." When Quoyle saves her, he not only saves Bunny from the "wrong side" but also corroborates his own "wrongness." This incident anticipates the change that Quoyle undergoes throughout the book. The way that Quoyle decides to care for the path from the house to the shore also shows a small change in his character, and his self image—in the path project, he finds something that he is confident he could undertake.

The narrator implies that Warren's passage out to sea looks like the final scene in an old western. This image seems to be a way of rewriting the love motif that the old westerns dramatized. Instead of the cowboy riding off on horseback with the pretty lady, the aunt—a woman who will always miss her woman friend, and not a husband—says goodbye to her only companion, a female dog. This ritual seems to be a way for the aunt to say goodbye to Irene Warren as well as Warren the dog. Not only does this sailing to the setting sun involve an ending instead of a beginning, but it also involves only women, and not a heterosexual couple. The reader should anticipate the possibility that the aunt's affection for Irene Warren may have involved a romantic relationship. The ancestry theme in the novel is further developed in these chapters as well. Quoyle's relationship to his ancestry at this point in the book, is a bit ambivalent. He feels "lukewarm" about fixing up the family house on the point. Omaloor Bay, where Quoyle takes his boat out for the first time, was named after Quoyle's dimwitted ancestors. Sure enough, Omaloor Bay is the site of Quoyle's most uncouth virgin sail. Quoyle's revulsion upon finding the brooch made of human hair (that undoubtedly belonged to a long-dead ancestor) seems to be symbolic of his general attitude regarding his roots. It is perhaps important to note that the tied brooch, the knots in the trees, and Sunshine's knotted grass are all mentioned during Quoyle's walk to the shore. Symbolically, the knots of the dead (the brooch) are connected to the knots in the trees (the knots of the place) and the knots of the next generation (Sunshine).