The Shipping News

by: Annie Proulx

Chapters 25–27

Summary Chapters 25–27

Nutbeem and Quoyle's conversation concerning Jack's uncanny way of assigning stories addresses the theme of pain in the novel. Nutbeem presents a philosophical quandary concerning pain and healing. Do human beings heal by psychologically locating themselves as far away from their painful memories as possible, or by confronting the pain by repeatedly revisiting it? Indeed, the way in which the newsroom characters have been assigned roles hardly seems merely coincidental. Quoyle had to cover car wrecks right after his wife's accident; Nutbeem, sexually abused as a boy, writes the abuse stories; and Billy Pretty, who has never been married, does home and hearth stories.

Quoyle comments that Jack does the same to himself, fishing every day when practically his whole family died at sea. Proulx seems to imply that inevitably all human beings come face-to-face with their most painful memories or deepest insecurities. In fact, people even choose to live lives that allow them to act out their suffering. Quoyle comments, "it's easier to die if others around you are dying." This line suggests that there is a kind camaraderie in the way human beings are constantly reliving painful memories; somehow, watching others suffer as you have suffered, makes you feel less alone.

Chapter 25 is a turning point for Quoyle. When Quoyle yells at Tert Card after seeing the oil tanker rewrite, Billy Pretty understandably feels surprise. This is perhaps the first scene in which Quoyle unapologetically stands up for himself, and he does so with passion and conviction. In fact Quoyle gives an eloquent defense of himself; he not only expresses anger for the first time in the novel, but he also shows that he is totally aware of why he is in the right. One might compare this passage to the scene in Chapter 1 in which Partridge helps Quoyle rewrite his article. In the first passage, Quoyle not only submissively agrees with Partridge, but he also has no idea how Partridge changes make for a better story. The scene with Tert Card shows that Quoyle is growing personally and professionally. At the beginning of the book, Quoyle has learned to "separate his feelings from his life," but this incident shows that Quoyle has learned to do precisely the opposite—to involve his feelings in his life, to essentially, feel pride.

By including Quoyle's columns within the narrative, Proulx is able to explore his character and its relationship to the theme of social and economic change. Quoyle is taking on a role for himself—he identifies as the writer of this column, and stands by his own opinions. The oil tanker column, the article about the failing cod fisherman, and the article on the Plimsoll loading marks all show a sense of social conscience. Quoyle's journalism is a vehicle for social activism. The Plimsoll article specifically exposes the lack of safety regulations that caused lives to be lost on commercial ships; this subject alludes back to the situation with Wavey's husband. Wavey told Quoyle that her husband died on the oil rig as a result of the absence of governmental safety precautions.

The knotted twine that Quoyle finds before he leaves on his walk is most likely another evil omen left by Nolan. The chapter introduction tells that the name for a loose end of rope is "deadman" and indeed Quoyle notices a fraying end of twine as he seeks out the dead man, and right before he has his own close call with death.