The Shipping News
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. Happy Conclusion of a Tragic Story.
Many authors write great plays and novels, which mostly end in a successful conclusion that fulfills the satisfaction of the readers. The famous William Shakespeare, however, wrote plays with a happy conclusion or a tragic conclusion. Much the same as him, Annie Proulx, the author of a famous novel, The Shipping News, focuses on a tragic story with a happy conclusion. The novel is about a man named, Quoyle, who is struggling to reclaim his life while single parenting his two daughters. Many readers claim that The Shipping News does not have a happy ending; however, it does have one due to the characters of Bunny, Quoyle and Agnis overcoming obstacles and leaving the readers with satisfaction.
Firstly, the novel has a happy conclusion because Bunny overcomes her fears of white dogs, becomes closer to her father and accepts Wavey as a mother figure. Bunny is the daughter of Quoyle and Petal and she, the six-year-old, fears white dogs. One day, in the Newfoundland, when everyone is sleeping, Bunny gets up and looks out the window and starts claiming she saw a white dog. Quoyle and the Aunt searched, but there was no site. This is did not occur once; she claimed to see a white dog many times. However, as the novel progresses, Bunny meets a woman named Wavey and she shares her thoughts to her. Later on, Wavey tells Bunny to face her fears. Over time, Bunny does and gets over her fears, as Quoyle thinks, when Wavey gifts Bunny a white husky dog, “’It’s a white dog.’ Could hardly say it” (Proulx 315). Bunny gets so excited to see a white dog, she starts talking about her future and how she is going to race the dog when she gets older. Astound, Quoyle does not believe that his daughter has gotten over her fear of white dogs. In addition, not only does Bunny get over her fears, she also builds a better relationship with her father, Quoyle. For example, in the beginning of the novel, Bunny and Quoyle are distant from each other, but once the family moves to Killick Claw, they grow to be better to each other. When Bunny finds out what happened to Petal being dead, bunny says, “She’s sleeping, Dad says” (Proulx 335). This means that Bunny has developed a strong relationship with her father that she not willing to agree with what Wavey is telling her. This makes the readers realize that the father and daughter have strong relationship near the end of the novel because of Bunny’s trust. Moreover, Bunny does not get over Petal death quickly. Every now and then, she would ask where Petal is, but she seemed oblivious to the truth. However, once she meets Wavey, she thinks less and less of Petal and accepts Wavey as mother figure. For example, when whenever Bunny wants something, she would go to Wavey and ask for it, just like how a little girl would ask her mother. Near the end of the novel, the author states, “’Wavey. Can we go see if the bird’s still there’ […] ‘Yes’” (Proulx 335). Bunny wants to see the dead bird, right after talking about Petal’s death. This makes the readers feel satisfaction that Wavey is being a good mother figure and Bunny is accepting that by constantly allowing her. Overall, the novel has a happy ending because Bunny’s character overcomes her fears of white dogs, becomes closer to her father and accepts Wavey as a mother figure, leaving the readers satisfied.
Secondly, the novel has happy ending because Quoyle overcomes his fears and becomes a better character by achieving self-confidence, moving on with his previous relationship and becoming a better parent. In the begging, Quoyle is a very bleak individual, who does not have much trust in himself, and does not think he can attain much as a person such as love or affection. During the first chapter, the author gives an indication of how Quoyle’s life is during his childhood, for when his own father verbally abused him by calling him a failure. This causes Quoyle to have low self-confidence, which leaves an imprint and carries on into his adulthood. However, through the years he finds something he is good at, that is writing. In contrast, when he first starts, he is a bad writer, but once he comes to Killick Claw, and writes a news article for the Gammy Bird, he gets recognition for his work. The author states, “Thirty-six years old and his [is] the first time anybody ever said he’d done it right” (Proulx, 114). From a single success, Quoyle gains more self-confidence. This allows him to be more social and make friends that accept him for who he is. Quoyle’s success for the first time in his life leaves the readers with satisfaction that the man did achieve something. Furthermore, Quoyle’s lack of love and affection does not end there. Throughout the novel, Quoyle misses his ex-wife, Petal. Every moment, the man would miss his ex-wife and grieve over it. However, once he meets Wavey, a widow in Killick Claw with a disabled son, he thinks less of Petal. Since both have not moved on from their past relationship, Quoyle finds much of mutuality between them and they develop a relationship. Near the end of the novel, the author states, “”All he felt with Wavey [is] comfort and a modest joy” (Proulx, 304). Quoyle feels belonging and comfort with Wavey, whereas with Petal, he felt like he was begging more affection. This says that Quoyle has moved on and is allowing himself to commit to a relationship with someone who is willing to return the same commitment. Quoyle moving on from Petal leaves the readers satisfied. Moreover, not only does Quoyle get over his low self-confidence and his relationship with his ex-wife, he also becomes a better father to his daughters. In the begging of the novel, Quoyle does not pay much attention to his two daughters, Bunny and Sunshine. This causes the readers to think he is being a bad parent. However, once he moves to Killick Claw, he develops a closer relationship with two daughters. Quoyle realizes that he does not want his two daughters to go through the same thing he went through, because his awful childhood. For example, Bunny sees the white dog and Quoyle feels: “his own failure to love her enough [has] damaged Bunny” (Proulx, 134). As he slowly develops to create a good relationship with his daughters, he becomes a good parent. For instance, Bunny gets sick and when Quoyle finds out, he says, “Poor baby” (Proulx, 261) and makes her a cup of tea. Quoyle shows care for his daughters that he did not show before. From this, the readers feel relieved that Quoyle is now a better parent for his two young daughters. Overall, the novel has happy conclusion because Quoyle’s character gains confidence, moves on from his previous relationship and becomes a better parent leaving the readers satisfied.
Lastly, the novel has a happy conclusion because Agnis moves on from the past by accepting her bad childhood memories, moving on from her past relationship with Irene Warren and feeling relief when the house goes down. In the beginning, Agnis Hamm, also known as the Aunt, is a mysterious character. The author does not give much information of her; however, she her past does not come out until later in the novel. During her childhood, her older brother, Guy, sexually harassed her. Throughout the novel, Agnis tries to hide this fact from Quoyle, however, Quoyle already knows from his cousin, Nolan. Many times in the novel, Agnis talks bitterly of Quoyle’s father, therefore, when Quoyle confronts Agnis, she diverts the topic to something else. The author writes, “She straightened up, the busy hand revived. Pretending he’d never said a thing” (Proulx, 322-3). However, in a way, Agnis is relieved that her nephew knows, and she can move on and not worry about telling the truth herself. The weight goes away from her shoulder, allows the reader to feel satisfaction of her life. Furthermore, Agnis does not only move on with her childhood memories, but also moves on with love life. Very subtly, the author states that Agnis is lesbian and she cannot move on with her past relationship with Irene Warren. To keep memory of her ex, she names her dog after it, but it dies very quickly. Still hung up on that, the readers feel sorry for her. Therefore, as the book progresses and Agnis involve herself more around by starting a shop. She hires a woman named Mavis Banks and both become close as the book progresses. Both become close that Agnis says, “Mavis wants to go partners in the business […] it makes sense if we both live upstairs over the shop” (Proulx, 323). Agnis and Mavis become so close that both decide to live together. This means Agnis moved on with Irene and made a close friend by getting over her past. From this the readers feel relieved that Agnis has moved on and has made close friends. Moreover, the readers feel more relief when the Quoyle family house fell down. Throughout the novel, the house becomes a good attachment to the family symbolizing many things such as weakness in each individual. For Agnis, the house holds the memory of her childhood, where her brother abused her. For when Quoyle tells Agnis about the house being blown away due to the wind and bad storm, “he could hardly believe what he heard. The house gone and [Agnis] asked about the crapper” (Proulx 322). In a way, Agnis is relieved that the house is gone and the wind has blown away the bad memories. This makes the readers relieved as well because the house carried darkness and now it is gone. Overall, the novel has a happy ending because Agnis’s character accepts her bad childhood, moves on from her past relationship and feeling relief when the house falls.
In conclusion, The Shipping News does have a cheerful closure because of the characters Bunny, Quoyle and Agnis by overcoming their barriers and leaving the readers with fulfillment. Bunny gets over her fears and accepts her family, Quoyle achieves self-confidence allowing him to develop a relationship with others including his daughters and lastly, Agnis moves on with her childhood memories and accepts the present. Overall, Annie Proulx did fulfill the satisfaction of the readers by writing a wonderful novel.
The Shipping News: Assessment of Stuart Pierson’s Judgement
Hello everybody and welcome back to another podcast, where I will be evaluating the reasonable assessment of Stuart Pierson’s judgement on the Shipping news, as seen on my hand out with close reference to the thematic element of “work”. As the story develops, effects of the global village are felt and passed down to Newfoundland in social, economic and industrial aspects of living. Whilst it can be argued that the humane Newfoundland has been overturned by new ways of living, it is inaccurate to only describe the pre-Americanised Newfoundland as bucolic.
Social economic ways:
Firstly, Proulx writes this story at a time when industrialisation has taken over the original simplicity of Newfoundland. Social and economic aspects are now focussed around mass shipping and oil exploration by the mainland. This social change comes after many successive generations of men have made their living from the sea and craftsmanship, and are now in search for a sense of meaning and purpose within Newfoundland. The global village has turned away from small and local seasonal fishing to year-round fishery operations and oil developments, which has been strongly felt by the people of Newfoundland.
“There’s two ways of living here now.” spoken by Jack Buggit, is an import quote and is a turning point in how the decisions the people of Newfoundland make are now not made to feel a sense of belonging, but for the benefit of themselves. Jack says this to Quoyle after Tert Card leaves the town to work for the Americanised oil supply company, referring to uncertainty created by this social change.
Jack’s voice, when talking about the old way of life, is more enthusiastic and cheerful compared to when he talks about the new way of life, in a disparaging tone. In his eyes, the old way of life emphasised values of family loyalty, community, purpose and meaning in your life, whereas the new way suggests a family separation, working without purpose and to benefit off global trade. When explored further, Jack’s explanation that follows this quote about the new way of life is longer, and more detailed, emphasising the increased complexity that results from the new way of life.
Through Billy Pretty’s sadness over depleting natural resources it is made reminiscent not only because Newfoundland will never return to its original way, but the once simple way of life has been lost forever. This once easy lifestyle that was focused around working closely together with other Newfoundlanders has become about working together globally. The Previous part-pastoral way of country living has now dramatically changed with increased desire for the commodity oil.
Economic change is seen not only with the depleting cod, but also environmentally, with seagulls stuck in the oil infested seas. This change towards mass production has removed the need for individuals to possess a diverse skill set; like how to make a boat, catch cod, how to start a small business and prepare for the storm. Without the need for these daily skills, there also is the loss of the aesthetic value and sense of achievement that goes along with the skill. Quoyle’s column about the painting is a perfect example of this because they require hard work and skill to use.
Whilst the violent Americanised present has clearly changed multiple social and economic parts of the once simple Newfoundlander life, Pierson’s statement claiming Newfoundland was originally near perfect, are misleading. Early on in the novel Prulox describes the living conditions and landscape as harsh and stark, very different to the open green paddocks and blue skies associated with bucolic.
The biggest way the Americanised present has violently changed Newfoundland was through the exploitation of natural resources. Traditionally, Newfoundland, had completely relied on its natural resources in day to day life, from food to the way they made their living. Resource exploitation and population decline of cod exceed the sustainable resource yields in both the story and on the real island, causing many problems.
This top of industrialisation of traditional industries, such as logging and fishing is an important topic to discuss today as it has serious broader real world implication, similar scenarios can be seen around the world, a perfect example is business war in Africa that went on for over 30 years. Where Natural resources such as diamonds and oil within African nations like Angola, where exploited and used to pay for military weapons instead of trying to make the country a better place, by investing in the education of younger generations or help fight the extreme poverty.
Arguably this has made these African nations some of the most miserable places on earth. Outside nations and companies profited at the expense of the growing misery of these African countries because of colonialism which allowed for European countries to extract these resources for the benefit of their own country. Instead, outside countries should have been helping to block the flow of weapons and their ability to sell a nation’s patrimony.
This colonialization is similar the effects Industrialisation had on Newfoundland. The once gentle and easy way of life was overcome by the American present. Prulox writes the novel with three generations of Quoyles family to show the vast change in the conflict Newfoundland faces between the new and old industries. Tert Card sees the benefit of the change, confident it will bring the prosperity to Newfoundland that is badly needed. For years he has been itching to get out of Killick-claw and this drastic change gives him that opportunity.
In contrast, Quoyle can see the possible dangers, writing an article citing the dangers that the oil industries pose on the current way of life. Jack sums up any concerns of the industry saying to Quoyle “the goddamn Canada government is giving rights to every country on the face of the earth, but regulating us out of business”
In 2001, published in the Canadian issues, Dr Melvin Baker wrote a brief summary of the history of the cod fisheries. Explaining that the cod fisheries of the real Newfoundland were critical for residents until 1992 when the Government imposed a moratorium on the catching of cod off the east coast of Newfoundland causing the cod fisheries to collapse, disrupting the lives of 30’000 fishermen and fishery plant workers whose lives depended on the industry. He goes on to and discusses how the disruption forced many of these affected people to move to the Canadian mainland to find new jobs. Though once again this change was not completely overcome with the fishing industry being revived by a more centralised and professional industry, focusing their attention on crab and shrimp (Google Books, 2017).
To wrap everything up in summary, Stuart Pierson’s assessment of the Shipping news is true to a certain extent. As the novel develops, there are certain aspects that have been overcome by the new Americanised present but not necessarily for the worst, we can see economic and social changes with two ways to live, limited ways to make a living with many businesses being destroyed and exploitation of natural resources in traditional industries. Broader implications of these negative effects can be seem in the business war in Africa where nations and individuals profit off the misery of another country. However, to argue that Newfoundland offered the perfect country life to begin with, is misleading with Proulx describing Newfoundland as a place of harsh living conditions and landscape.
Hope you enjoyed this podcast, tune in next week to hear about the theme of culture and a one on one interview with Annie Proulx herself.
Use of Place and Setting in The Shipping News
Superficially, Newfoundland is merely the setting of E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. More fundamentally, however, Newfoundland is instrumental to the action, characters and ideas of the novel. Newfoundland’s ruggedness generates the unique conditions in which the development of the protagonist, Quoyle, is possible. There, he finds a community in which he completely belongs and, in turn, develops resilience and a sense of self that allow him to overcome the past. The contrast between Mockingburg and Newfoundland also allows Proulx to discuss more obvious contemporary issues, such as rural decline and modernisation. Before looking at how Proulx uses place to develop the novel’s characters and themes, it is important to examine place as a literary technique to provide insights into the characters and foreshadow imminent events. Descriptions of the weather, natural environment and sea are constant, often beginning chapters or sections (including chapters 11, 15, 19 and 24). This creates a vivid impression of the remoteness and harshness of Newfoundland. Rather than didactically explaining why Newfoundland is so important, Proulx uses these snapshots to provide a more nuanced sense of significance. These descriptions also bring depth to the characters. When Agnis is recalling sexual assault at the hands of her half-brother Guy, she remembers ‘the clouds in thin rolls like grey pencils in a box… Deepest silence, the vapour of her breath floated from her mouth… She was eleven or twelve.’ (p.225) Her comparison of the clouds to ‘grey pencils in a box’ or the image of her breath on the air is not only haunting, but also very child-like. The vividness of her memories suggests that the impact this event had on Agnis was very severe.Further, Proulx uses place to foreshadow the action that is about to occur. Just before Billy Pretty and Tert Card have an argument about the future of Newfoundland, Quoyle describes the bay crawling with ‘whitecaps like maggots seething in a broad wound. A rough morning.’ (p.197). The image of the rough seas echoes the rough morning Quoyle does in fact have, finding himself in the middle of Pretty and Card’s argument. Similarly, prior to Nutbeem’s party ‘a warm fluke, a tongue of balmy air, licked out from the mainland and tempered the crawling ice margins.’ (p.250) Despite the unfortunate events that occur at the party, this rare and enjoyable change in the weather foreshadows a rare and mostly enjoyable night. The first idea from The Shipping News that is inextricably linked to place is the need to overcome the past. In Newfoundland, Quoyle develops resilience, an acceptance of the nature of life and death, and an understanding of his ancestors, all of which allow him to deal better with trauma. The Killick-Claw community demonstrates to Quoyle that life is a constant struggle that requires adaptability. One small example of this is Quoyle’s changing approach to the local food. At the beginning, he thinks the coffee is ‘filthy’ (p.53), but by the novel’s end he admits that ‘fried bologna isn’t bad’ (p.252). This adaptability is reinforced by the behaviour of other characters around him. The Aunt embodies practicality; in the way she relocates to Newfoundland, trains herself in an entirely new career and even makes tea in used-soft drink cans when they first arrive (p.41). Likewise, when Quoyle asks Nutbeem why he is so calm about the wreckage of his boat, he replies ‘no use crying in my beer’ (p.268). This is a nonchalant response to an understandably devastating event. The influence of these people on Quoyle results in his change in sentiment towards Petal. When the Aunt first arrives, Quoyle tells her that Petal was just ‘starved for love’ (p.23) – he even attaches sentimental value to the eggs she gives him instead of a proper Christmas present (p.281). Eventually, Quoyle recognises ‘something now [he] didn’t know a year ago… Petal wasn’t any good.’ (p.308) This is largely thanks to the role models he finds in Killick-Claw, who lead him, by example, through his grief.One specific problem that prevents Quoyle from moving on is his inability to come to terms with death. This is most evident in his failure to explain adequately Petal’s death to Bunny. When he tells Wavey that ‘children should be protected from knowledge of death’ (p.332), she asks him how, if they do not understand death, they can possibly understand ‘the deep part of life?’ (p.332). Newfoundland is instrumental in helping Quoyle come to terms with both death and the deep part of life. Quoyle is constantly surrounded by the sea and its danger. The Buggits, who become close friends of Quoyle, have lost their eldest child and nearly lose Jack at sea. These losses normalise death to some extent. Even Mrs Buggit is ‘surprising[ly] calm’ (p.329) on hearing about her husband’s death, because she has been expecting Jack to die at sea since they were first married. But it is not just the Buggits who face this fear each day – as Billy Pretty acknowledges at Jack’s wake, ‘the water is a dark flower and a fisherman is a bee in the heart of her.’ (p.332). Proulx uses this metaphor to illustrate both the danger and allure of the sea, and the dependence of the fishermen upon it. Quoyle is also helped to come to terms with death by facing his own mortality. He almost dies while retrieving the body of Herman Melville (p.211), and could have died if he had remained in Mockingburg at the time of the mass shooting in the office of the Mockingburg Record (p.291). In this way, death becomes a paradox: by being in Newfoundland Quoyle has come closer to death than ever before, but has also been saved from it. Quoyle’s return to Newfoundland is another paradox, because while he wants to reject everything the old Quoyles were, he is also accepted into the Killick-Claw community because of them. Quoyle desperately wants to avoid following in his family’s footsteps. He does this first by avoiding Cousin Nolan as much as possible, and also by addressing Bunny’s alternative behaviour. Quoyle fears that his ‘weird kid’ (p.132) may, in fact, have inherited some of the negative traits of his own father and Quoyles before him. These characteristics are personified in the house on Quoyle’s Point, in which Quoyle is never really comfortable. He believes ‘the house was wrong. Had always been wrong, he thought… That was it. In the house he felt like he was… swallowed by the shouting past.’ (p.263). Proulx uses the destruction of the house both as a symbol both of Quoyle’s acceptance of the past and victory over the personality he seeks to escape. The second major idea in The Shipping News is belonging, which Quoyle finds in the Killick-Claw community in a unique way. The impact of different communities is shown through the contrast between Mockingburg and Killick-Claw. In Mockingburg, Quoyle has no friends but Partridge; in Killick-Claw, he makes friends with the Buggits, Nutbeem, and Billy Pretty to name just a few. In Mockingburg, Quoyle is emotionally abused by Petal; in Killick-Caw, he finds love with Wavey. This differentiated sense of belonging is even reflected in the quality of babysitter Quoyle finds: in Mockingburg, Mrs Moosup ignores the children and spends most of her time watching TV (p.15); in Killick-Claw, Beety Buggit cares for Bunny and Sunshine like her own. At a personal level, Killick-Claw gives Quoyle a much stronger sense of self. He becomes more comfortable with his body and realises he is, in fact, at a ‘prime physical point’ (p.327). It is clear the whole community is behind Quoyle and Wavey’s relationship when Alvin Yark asks Quoyle when he is going to ‘do the deed’ (p.303). This, along with his growing understanding of love, gives Quoyle the courage to approach Wavey. Finally, Quoyle has much more confidence in his abilities at The Gammy Bird than he ever did at the Mockingburg Record, which is shown in his adroit management of the front-page following Jack’s death (p.330). This accepting community is exclusive to Killick-Claw. The isolation and remoteness of the town mean the inhabitants do not feel the same pressure as the people in Mockingburg to conform to superficial modern standards that someone like Quoyle can never achieve. The shared struggle of life on the island also develops strong bonds between the residents, and highlights the need they all have for support from each other. Finally, Proulx uses Killick-Claw and Mockingburg to contrast the effects of modernisation, a very contemporary issue. As fish become scarcer and oil conglomerates start operating in Newfoundland, traditional ways of life die out. To some – particularly Tert Card – this appears to be a positive development. But to others it poses dangers. Billy Pretty is concerned about the possibility of ‘drugs and crime… prostitutes… alcoholism, moral degradation of the lowest kind.’ (p.199). For other characters, such as the fish plant supervisor, the harms are less tangible; ‘”they used to say ‘a man’s set up in life if he’s got a pig, a punt and a potato patch.’ What do they say now? Every man for himself.’” (p.200). This comment suggests that modernisation is weakening the traditional values of Killick-Claw; hardiness, practicality and mutual support. While Mockingburg may be superficially more developed than Killick-Claw, it lacks the latter’s strong bonds of community. These bonds stem directly from the remoteness and isolation of Newfoundland, and generate a tradition of cohesive and supportive community. The Shipping News is a story of one man’s journey, operating on two levels; a physical journey from America to the remote Canadian province of Newfoundland, and a spiritual journey towards self-confidence and contentment. These two journeys rely on one another. In this way, Proulx uses place both to contextualise her characters and to provide a resonance without which her novel would lack dimension. Newfoundland situates The Shipping News dramatically and poignantly.