The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 267

The world of The Shipping News is peopled by eccentrics. One need only look at their names to see that most are embodiments of comic traits: Tert Card, B. Beaufield Nutbeem, Jack Buggit. Even those characters for whom Quoyle (and Proulx) has great affection—Agnis Hamm, Wavey Prowse—bear oddball names. Some names are meant to reflect the colorful Newfoundland dialect, but others—such as Petal Bear, and even Bunny and Sunshine, Quoyle’s bewitched little girls—are clearly intended to be ironic monikers for natives of a place called Mockingburg.

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Quoyle himself is an outsider from birth; he is described as odd in appearance, and the narrator remarks that “his earliest sense of self was as a distant figure: there in the foreground was his family; here, at the limit of the far view, was he. Until he was fourteen he cherished the idea that he had been given to the wrong family. . . .”

When, however, he finds his way back to the land of his forebears, a land filled with others as conspicuously idiosyncratic as he, Quoyle is able to find his rightful place in society, to find respect and even love. The object of his affection is a perfect match for him. Abused by her now-dead husband, mother to a retarded son, Wavey, like Quoyle, is one of “the kind who stood with forced smiles watching other people dance, spin on barstools, throw bowling balls.” In a place where drowned men rise from the dead, it is possible, in the end, for two such people to discover that “love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 657

The main and only fully developed A character in The Shipping News is Quoyle. As the omniscient narrator tells the story, Quoyle was born into a family that seemed to care nothing for him. His older brother abusively belittled him and his father thought of him as nothing but a failure. If that were not enough to make him insecure, his hideous appearance — "head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back" — further diminished his sense of self worth. What is surprising is that Quoyle did not turn mean himself. Instead, he suffered in silence, lacked ambition as a result of his family's attitude toward him, and did not bother to set goals for himself other than to try to make a living. Alone as he was, despite the presence of family, Quoyle seemed rudderless. As such, he drifted into his friendship with Partridge who steered him toward becoming a newspaperman. Partridge helped Quoyle land a job at The Mockingburg Reporter, where Quoyle worked unless it was vacation time for the editor's kids. Then Quoyle would lose his job to those kids until college was in session again.

Hired, fired; fired, hired, over and over — that seemed to be the repetition of Quoyle's life in Mockingburg whether it was as reporter or as husband. Ed Punch, editor, thought nothing of casting Quoyle out when Quoyle was not needed or was in the way; likewise, Quoyle's wife, Petal Bear (who came into Quoyle's life about the time Partridge and his wife, Mercalia, left Mockingburg for California) did the same. A caricature of an oversexed and loose woman, Petal Bear bore Quoyle two daughters, Bunny and Sunshine. She had no interest in mothering the girls; rather, she would take off by car for weeks or months at a time, sailing up and down east coast highways and byways, seemingly employed, but quite literally tramping from one relationship to another while Quoyle patiently and passionately begged her to come...

(The entire section contains 924 words.)

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Critical Essays