The Shipping News


Chapters 13–15

Summary Chapters 13–15


These chapters invoke foreshadowing in order to create suspense and help move the plot forward. The reader should recognize a few ominous clues that crop up aboard the Tough Baby. First of all, the ship was supposedly made for Hitler, a fact that no one seems to be forgetting any time soon. Bayonet and Silver Melville are not only in the midst of a vicious shouting match, but both seem to have conspicuous bruises on their skin, as if they have been physically fighting. Also, both take a kind of sick pleasure in telling the history of the yacht's amazing destructive capabilities. A careful reader will notice the connection between Silver's name, and the fact that Petal Bear is often associated with the color silver.

Chapter 14 provides an occasion for the aunt to tell her own history. The aunt, happy to bore Quoyle with the details of the projects she worked on in upholstery school, deliberately leaves out the fact that her "significant other" was a woman. Curiously, this is perhaps the only detail of the aunt's life that we know, but Quoyle does not. The aunt appears only as a businesswoman, an artisan in the upholstery trade, but not as a lover or sexual partner. Indeed, the aunt does not seem to feel at all burdened by the lack of a confession. She very quickly dismisses her sexuality as something Quoyle could not understand, and moves on; Proulx disallows the sex of the aunt's partner to disrupt the story's priorities.

There seems to be no personal gain for the aunt in "coming out" as a lesbian, but she instead "comes out" as a businesswoman. Quoyle had no idea until he boarded the Melville's ship that the aunt was such an adept upholsterer. This chapter helps establish the aunt's strong character again. She has lost a loved one, also, but it did not stop her from starting her own upholstery business. Now, relocated to Newfoundland and in her sixties, she has successfully started it again.

Wavey's brief appearance in Chapter 14 is curious, considering that the chapter is named for her (and not the aunt). Perhaps this irony draws attention to the way each woman plays a different role in Quoyle's life. As Quoyle begins to be haunted less by Petal, he no longer needs the aunt's strength so desperately; he seems to be opening up a space in his life for a new love-interest. His attraction to Wavey's posture and gait suggests that he sees her for her grace rather than for her sexual potential.

There is something ominous about the conversation Quoyle and the aunt have concerning Bunny. The aunt seems to be hiding something, as she looks at Quoyle cautiously, as if she were examining "a new kind of leather she might buy." This simile suggests she may be sizing up his potential, the chances he will continue to dwell on this idea. The aunt goes on to dismiss all of his worries so emphatically that one wonders if the aunt knows information she is not sharing. Indeed, at the end of the chapter, the narrator mentions Guy, Quoyle's father in a threatening way. He apparently did something when the aunt (or perhaps another "she"—the pronoun's referent is unclear) was Bunny's age. The tone and word choice suggests that there may have been an incident of sexual abuse.