The Shipping News: Tracking the Development of Quoyle's Self Image

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The Development of Quoyle’s Self-Image in “The Shipping News”

Self-image is very important when judging one’s character. A high self-image usually means a person thinks highly of themselves, is very sociable and somewhat exerts power and control over others. On the other hand, a low self-image can mean that a person is lonely , is to his or herself and will let others take advantage of them. Self-image can be affected by the experiences one goes through. This is the case with Quoyle, the main character in “The Shipping News”, a novel written by E. Annie Proulx. Quoyle starts off as a weak character who then grows into a stronger one. Representative of his name, Quoyle – which means a coil of rope – can be stepped on if necessary, has strength and potential, and the possibility of using his capabilities to their fullest.

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What plays a great part in Quoyle’s, development is his relationship with others. One example of this is his relationship with his bosses. When hired as a news reporter, covering the municipal beat in Mockingburg , New York, Quoyle was pushed around by his boss. Ed Punch would fire and rehire Quoyle as he pleased. “Punch played reluctant. Made a show of taking Quoyle back as a special favor. Temporary”(9). Later on in Newfoundland, while working for Jack Buggit, Quoyle’s manger, Tert Card deliberately changed one of Quoyle’s columns. Quoyle was proud of his work and he thought no one, not even his boss, had the right to change his column. For once Quoyle knew he did a good job and was absolutely right, which he was. As proof of his growth as a human being, he stood up and spoke out against this injustice committed against him. Quoyle was not afraid to say what was on his mind and also to show his feelings. He pressed his boss into a corner as a demonstration of his outrage, to get his column back. ” This is a column,’ bellowed Quoyle. You can’t change somebody’s column, for Christ’s sake, because you don’t like it! Jack asked me to write a column about boats and shipping. That means my opinion and description as I see it. This’ – he shook the paper against the slab cheeks – isn’t what I wrote, isn’t my opinion, isn’t what I see'” (203). His relationship with his boss certainly changed. He is no more the yes man he once was.

Some important symbols of Quoyle’s growth deal with the houses in which he lived in chronologically. He lived in a trailer , a rented house, the green house and finally the Burks’ house. Each represented a different aspect in Quoyle’s development. When he lived in the trailer, he had nothing to be proud of. He lived alone, had no steady job and he did not keep the trailer clean and orderly. Then, once married to Petal Bear, they moved into a rented house. This house represents Quoyle’s character at its weakest. Since the house was rented, if anything needed repair, it wasn’t Quoyle’s responsibility to fix it, but the landlord’s. This symbolizes Quoyle’s inability to do something productive with his life on his own. After Petal Bear’s death he and his daughters moved in with his aunt in the green house. Once in this ancestral house, Quoyle finds out about his family’s incestuous and terrible past. This inspires a change in Quoyle’s character. The green house needed renovations and Quoyle ends up doing some of the work. Remarkably, he adapts quickly to this situation. When offered to buy Nutbeem’s trailer, he refuses because it was trashed in Nutbeem’s going away party. This refusal symbolizes that Quoyle will no longer accept trash nor will he go back to the way he used to live. He has now evolved into a stronger person, who deserves better than an old, beat up trailer. Finally, he finds the perfect house for him and his daughters: the Burks’ house. An important reason for choosing this house was that he fit in the bathtub: something that never happened in the previous houses. This represents that his growth in self-image has been fulfilled. He chose the house, not only because of his family but for his needs also. He has matured as an individual.

As a young boy, Quoyle always thought himself as being an outsider from the rest of his family. “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”(2). Even as an adult, Quoyle tries to fit in and be accepted by his peers. He does this by buying a boat. However, instead of following their advice he goes on his own and buys one at a low price. It is not until his peers start to ridicule him, that he discovers that it is a cheap, badly made boat. Instead of taking his misfortune and turning it around he lets himself believe he is stupid. “Stupid Man Does Wrong Thing Once More”(89). If he had a high self-image he could have listened to his peers or told them that he would fix the boat. Allowing himself to be influenced, proves that he is still weak. However, as time passes his character grows stronger. This can be seen as he has fun sailing his boat. His self-image grows positive with his acceptance of what he does have. Although the boat almost killed him when it capsized, an important event occurred to bring about Quoyle’s development. As a child he had been tormented by his father because he could not swim, yet as the boat capsized he learned to swim in a matter of seconds. Subconsciously, this was a big step for Quoyle. He had overcome a childhood fear. This begins a transition for him. He now has a higher self-image. Quoyle learned from his experience with the boat and when it was time to buy another he bought a better crafted boat, without doubt or remorse. Quoyle’s life lessons had given him more self- confidence.

A positive self-image is critical in character development. As previously mentioned, experiences from one’s relationships, one’s dwelling, and a specific object can affect one’s self- image. In the end, Quoyle did enhanced his self-image. He now thinks optimistically. “He looked at his naked self…Saw he was immense…Yet the effect was more of strength than obesity. He guessed he was at some prime physical point. Middle age not too far ahead, but it didn’t frighten him…He pulled on the grey nightshirt which was torn under the arms and clung to his wet back. Again, a bolt of joy passed through him. For no reason”(327).

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