The Shipping News

by Annie Proulx

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Chapters 1-3 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

Quoyle’s father refers to him as a loser. He is a large man with bright red hair and a dominant chin that he often tries to hide with his hand. Quoyle has few friends, but one day he meets Partridge, a Black newspaper editor. Partridge is drawn to Quoyle because he senses a good-hearted man underneath all of Quoyle’s insecurities. So he gives Quoyle a lead on a job as a low-level reporter on a small, local newspaper, the same place where Partridge works. Quoyle lands the job but barely hangs onto it; Ed Punch, the managing editor, intermittently hires and fires Quoyle depending on whether there is a college student available to take over Quoyle’s position. For his first assignment, Quoyle stays up all night and turns in an eleven-page story that he is told must be cut down to two. Partridge tries to improve Quoyle’s style but later accepts that maybe Quoyle is not meant to write news stories.

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Quoyle’s struggle to grasp the art of journalism is second only to his challenge to understand women. Quoyle is awkward physically and emotionally. He craves love and almost drowns in his emotions the first time he meets a woman who asks him to get married. The woman’s name is Petal Bear. She is bold where Quoyle is shy. She is aggressive where Quoyle is timid. She is also heartless. The first time she is with Quoyle, she suggests that they get married.

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For the first month after their wedding, Quoyle believes he has died and gone to heaven. After that month, Quoyle endures a living hell. Petal obviously does not love him. Quoyle rationalizes that Petal either does not know how to love or she loves in a unique way. Petal must be free. She must be able to do what she wants when she wants to. Although she gives birth to two daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, she does not want to mother them. Although she has married Quoyle, she is not satisfied with him. She disappears for days and sometimes calls Quoyle from a thousand miles away. One time she brings a man home with her.

Although Quoyle’s life seems like it cannot get much worse, he receives a phone message from his father, who tells Quoyle that he and Quoyle’s mother are going to commit suicide. This is the last Quoyle hears from his parents. In the message, Quoyle’s father mentions his sister, Agnis Hamm, and tells Quoyle to contact her. Then Quoyle loses his job—this time for good. On top of this, after six years of marriage, Quoyle comes home to find that his wife has moved out. She has also taken Bunny, who is six, and Sunshine, who is four. The next time Quoyle hears any news about his wife and daughters, it is from the police. There was a car accident. Petal is dead and the girls are missing. The police investigate a receipt they find in Petal’s purse and discover that Petal sold her daughters to a child pornographer. The girls are rescued. When Agnis shows up, Quoyle asks if she would stay with them for a while.

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Chapters 4-6 Summary