The Shipping News

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Chapters 16–18

Summary Chapters 16–18


These chapters show a major turning point for Quoyle's character in the novel. Quoyle's initiative in writing the article on the Tough Baby, the Hitler ship, lands him a new assignment at the Gammy Bird; indeed, his story has encouraged Jack Buggit to include a whole new section in the paper, for which Quoyle will be responsible. Given the paper's quality, the reader may not see this as a valiant accomplishment. For Quoyle, however, it is the first time "he'd done it right."

However small the accomplishment, Quoyle's opinion of himself changes with this event. He goes from imagining Jack Buggit's rage (Quoyle imagines the newspaper headline "Reporter Bludgeoned") to feeling totally assured that he has done the right thing. Like a small child, Quoyle responds readily to approval. Since his childhood was void of any kind of praise (and more often condemnation), Quoyle seems to be re-living his childhood in some way, nurturing for the first time a sense of self-confidence and self-respect. His eagerness to praise and engage with his daughters shows his self-awareness about his own childhood.

Proulx alludes specifically to a symbolic childhood in Chapter 16 when Quoyle is sitting in Beety's kitchen. Not only does Quoyle get teary watching the scene of happy children (his own and Beety and Dennis's), but Quoyle also imagines Beety and Dennis as his own "secret parents." Beety's house nurtures a sense of safe space for Quoyle. Surrounded by the din of the T.V., warm bread, and plenty of stories, Quoyle feels a sense of refuge and protection. The house setting not only provides a more benign backdrop for Quoyle's story, but it also, according to Quoyle, brings out the best in him. He becomes "more of a father" but he also feels he does not have to hide his own vulnerability.

Quoyle's love interest also shows a good deal of growth in his character. He falls for a woman who first of all, wants his company (Wavey asks for him to give her a ride to the library, and invites him to her home), and secondly, loves her son, and enjoys children in general. Quoyle's deliberate attentiveness to his children is contrasted with Petal's deliberate neglect and cruelty. In a way, Petal was a kind of reincarnation of Quoyle's own cruel parents. This new attraction shows that Quoyle is capable of making behavioral changes that will lead to a life of less pain.

Quoyle's reaction to Dawn likewise shows a shift in the way he considers romantic love. The aunt seems to be subtly plotting to get Dawn and Quoyle to take an interest in each other. The reader knows from Quoyle's trip to the upholstery shop (Chapter 15) that Dawn is not at all attracted to Quoyle, and is even a bit rude. When Dawn shows up at their door, Quoyle immediately thinks of Petal. Petal is once again associated with the color silver. The association between Petal and Dawn could potentially catapult Quoyle into another masochistic obsession; that is, there seems to be the potential for more love torture, if Quoyle were to fall for Dawn.

Thinking of his life with Petal, Quoyle feels "a pang for this poor moth." This metaphor is loaded with meaning. Casting himself as the moth, Quoyle seems to suggest that he was attracted to Petal like a moth is attracted to light; it was an instinctual response that he could not seem to change. Moths are also associated with death. In these terms, the reader may consider that Quoyle, like the moth cannot help being attracted to that which is dead—literally, Petal, and figuratively, their romantic relationship. This thought also shows Quoyle's awareness of his own behavior. The poor moth seems to represent someone else, but has no role in his relationship with Dawn. Indeed, he shows no attraction whatsoever to this woman who dangerously seems to conjure an image of Petal.