A Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Shipping News, written by E. Annie Proulx is a story of a young but dispossessed newspaper reporter, who is constantly searching for his lost self. The affection and sympathy for a flawed human being makes Proulx’s novel distinctly different from the prevailing majority of contemporary works.
Trapped within the gendered reality of his life, this disenfranchised and dispossessed personality resembles a figure of Don Quixote, as he is fighting against wind mills: his efforts are all in vain until death comes into his life. In Proulx’s novel, death exhibits a profound symbolic meaning.
It is equally astonishing and fascinating. It puts an end to someone’s moral tortures and, simultaneously, paves the way to someone else’s successes and achievements. For Quoyle, death is just the beginning of a difficult fight for his own self. In E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, death exemplifies an act of moral capitulation and subsequent revival, equally painful and inevitable, which is leading Quoyle through the moral and spiritual salvation to love.
E. Annie Proulx is one of the most outstanding writers of our times. Her works are equally unusual and fascinating. Her characters uncover their talents and values through re-articulation and re-birth. The Shipping News is no exception: a Pulitzer-prize winning book, The Shipping News presents a dramatic story of a disenfranchised man looking for his self.
Quoyle, the protagonist of Proulx’s novel is trapped within the gendered reality of his tragic being. Constantly torn between his unfaithful wife, sick parents, and work and, as a result, disentangled, Quoyle is just a fragment of the surrounding reality, with no sense of selfhood (Flavin 240). In her book, Proulx observes how Quoyle is fighting against the realities of life. In The Shipping News, death comes as a form of salvation. It gives him Quoyle a second chance to win the game of life.
Quoyle, his wife Petal, and his parents are the major players of the death game. Quoyle’s life is a sequence of failures, which no one can break. “From this youngest son’s failure to dog-paddle the father saw other failures multiply like an explosion of virulent cells – failure to speak clearly; failure to sit up straight; failure to get up in the morning; failure in attitude; failure in ambition and ability; indeed, in everything. His own failure.” (2)
This tragic picture of never ending failures is further supplemented with the image of Petal Bear, Quoyle’s wife, whose sexual desire for Quoyle turns into detestation once they are married (Proulx 13). Quoyle brings his children around, while his wife is searching for sexual adventures (Proulx 14).
Petal travels in the U.S. and pretends not to recognize her children when she comes back home (Proulx 15). A life full of torture – this is how readers see Quoyle, his life and his family. Yet, even then Quoyle does have a chance to cope with all his troubles, if not for his parents.
“First the father, diagnosed with liver cancer, a blush of wild cells diffusing. A month later a tumor fastened in the mother’ brain like a burr” (Proulx 17). Readers do not realize that the gruesome picture of Quoyle’s life is just a preparation stage of his journey to salvation.
Death will become the turning point in his returning to the community and his self. In Quoyle’s situation, death is the only and, probably, the best way to personal happiness. Death will give him the freedom he needs to move on the course prescribed by his inner desires and not his family or wife (Flavin 240). It may even give him a sense of satisfaction for being a personality.
It goes without saying that Quoyle’s life is invariably associated with the changes that happen in his community. Stakeholders play one of the major roles in creating and reconstructing Quoyle’s life. Inherently submissive to the conditions and circumstances of his existence, Quoyle accepts community stakeholders and their decisions for granted.
It is not until he loses his wife and parents and moves to Newfoundland that he succeeds in actualizing and articulating his best human features (Stewart). These are stakeholders that affect the direction of his moral and spiritual evolution. At the beginning of Proulx’s novel, even the best Quoyle’s features, including his striving to care for his family and children and his sensitivity to failures, carry profound negative connotations. Once in a new community, these features pave the way to Quoyle’s personal happiness.
Quoyle’s aunt Agnis Hamm becomes his salvation: the main stakeholder and one of the main characters of Proulx’s novel, Agnis Hamm says: “You’ve got a chance to start out all over again. A new place, new people, new sights. A clean state. See, you can be anything you want with a fresh start” (Proulx 27).
Aunt Hamm gives impetus to Quoyle’s restoration and rebirth. The novelty of the community surroundings is like a fresh breath to Quoyle. He gradually moves from the sense of inadequacy to the sense of community belonging. He develops a voice needed to articulate his emotions and concerns.
He is no longer silent; nor is he a failure to himself and the rest of the community. The new community provides Quoyle with a unique opportunity to re-establish himself as a personality who deserves respect and love. This way is thorny and paved with tears, but what he gets at the end turns death into the source of new, unique opportunities for Quoyle. It seems that life itself gives Quoyle a second chance to win the game of life.
In Annie Proulx’s novel, the topic of death is important, since it exemplifies an act of capitulation and revival, equally painful and inevitable, which is leading Quoyle through spiritual and moral salvation to love. Death marks the beginning of Quoyle’s profound restructuring through self-exploration and self-analysis.
It is not an easy task, as the man cannot proceed to self-analysis before he comes back to his family and community history. Death turns The Shipping News into a unique source of knowledge about Quoyle’s ancestry. It allows Quoyle to understand the hidden causes of his personal and family failures.
This spiritual journey to inner peace and balance is associated with the pain of realization that Quoyle’s family “was a savage pack. In the olden days they say Quoyles nailed a man to a tree by ‘is ears, cut off’ is nose for the scent of blood to draw the nippers and flies that devoured ‘im alive” (Proulx 97).
This knowledge creates a moral controversy and a gap of misunderstanding between Quoyle and the rest of the Killick Claw community. Death reflects and emphasizes the need for a profound mental restructuring, which will take out the best features and leave violence and sexual abuse of Quoyle’s grand-relatives behind.
Without knowledge of his past, Quoyle cannot become a whole with his identity and selfhood (Flavin 240). While learning his past, Quoyle reconstructs himself and becomes honest and assertive (Flavin 240). He learns how to be happy and how to keep this happiness in his hands.
From the lowest point of disenfranchisement, through self-analysis, Quoyle finally achieves the ultimate point of completeness, where love is possible without pain and torture, and where it is not wounded and wrenched and comes only once (Proulx 234).
In Proulx’s The Shipping News, death is the end of Quoyle’s silence and the beginning of his voiced, well-articulated future. Seiffert writes that Proulx’s The Shipping News is essentially about Quoyle’s development of voice, followed by the sense of identity and belonging (515).
He begins his journey through Proulx’s book as a silent giant, a heap of flesh, with his marriage a painful disaster and his parents in the state of a death climax. He falls short of words, unable to express the complexity of feelings and emotions.
He silently listens to his wife as she is having with her new boyfriend in their living room: “He did not get up but lay on his back, the newspaper rustling with each heave of his chest, tears running down into his ears” (Proulx 16).
Following his wife’s drunken death, Quoyle becomes the sole decision-maker in his family. The life of his children is in his hands. He can finally envision his own future. He is no longer tied by circumstances. He is no longer trapped in his home place.
This is when he finally feels as if he had lost silence (Proulx 321). His voice becomes his guidance – an expression of his intuition and an articulation of his desires and thoughts. He is finally capable of expressing of his deepest feelings and thoughts. He can finally release his sentiments and passions without being judged for them.
Death in Proulx’s novel reflects Quoyle’s connection with stakeholders, since death is the main factor of homecoming and returning to the community for Quoyle. This is where the connection between Quoyle and stakeholders becomes particularly important.
This process is traumatic but effective – the pain of coming back to forefathers is further compensated by the triumph of knowledge and self-awareness. In Polack’s words, Quoyle’s life after the tragic deaths of his wife and parents reflects the “symmetry of redemption”, when the pain of loss causes and encourages purification from the sins and failures of the past (93). Quoyle’s new relationship with Wavey Prowse intensifies his sense of community belonging.
This sense, in turn, facilitates Quoyle’s transition to a new stage of self-creation and love: “Quoyle and Wavey side by side, feeling sympathy for each other. Herry breathing down their necks. The car moaned up the hill through the rain, away from the school” (Proulx 183).
Wavey is a point of connection between Quoyle and the new place he is in (Stewart). She is the source of harmony and balance between Quoyle and the rest of the community. This sense of belonging teaches Quoyle the skill of love, of which he was not capable before. This love turns into the main factor of Quoyle’s embeddedness and strong foundation in his new community (Stewart).
Proulx leads readers to the point, where death no longer looks formidable. Proulx reconsiders death from a new perspective, which gives it new meaning and life. It appears that death is not against life; rather it is the beginning of everything.
Cruel as it may sound, for individuals like Quoyle who surrender themselves to the circumstances of life, death is the only way to spiritual restoration and relief. This representation of death is equally complex and unique. It gives the reader some food for thought. We should care about this unique representation of death in Proulx’s novel, as it is never too late to reconsider even the most tragic events in a different, positive light.
A Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Shipping News is a story of a young dispossessed newspaper reporter, who constantly tries but cannot find his lost self. Proulx’s novel is essentially about what death can bring and what effects its causes on people.
In E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, death exemplifies an act of moral capitulation and subsequent revival, equally painful and inevitable, which is leading Quoyle through the moral and spiritual salvation to love. Death is the end of Quoyle’s silence and the beginning of his voiced, well-articulated future.
Death in Proulx’s novel reflects Quoyle’s connection with stakeholders, since death is the main factor of homecoming and returning to the community for Quoyle. Proulx leads readers to the point, where death no longer looks formidable. We should care about this unique representation of death in Proulx’s novel, as it is never too late to reconsider even the most tragic events in a different, positive light.
Flavin, Louise. “Quoyle’s Quest: Knots and Fragments as Tools of Narration in The Shipping News.” Critique, 40.3(1999): 239-247. Print.
Polack, Fiona. “Taking the Waters: Abjection and Homecoming in The Shipping News and Death of a River Guide.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 41.1(2006): 93-109. Print.
Proulx, E. Annie. The Shipping News. USA: First Touchstone Edition, 1994. Print.
Seiffert, Rachel. “Inarticulacy and Silence: Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.” Textual Practice, 16.3(2002): 511-525. Print.
Stewart, Robert Scott. “Tayloring the Self: Identity, Articulation, and Community in Proulx’s The Shipping News.” Studies in Canadian Literature, 23.2. Web. 09 May 2011.