The meaning of fear in Annie Proulx’ novel “The Shipping News”

Term Paper, 2000

12 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)



1 Introduction

2 Quoyle

3 Bunny

4 The aunt

5 Summary

1 Introduction

The novel “The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx tells about a man named Quoyle who works for a third-rate newspaper in the state of New York. Formed by his unhappy childhood he tries to find his place in a cruel world and marries a nymphomaniac who dies in a car accident. Quoyle’s aunt appears and persuades him to take his two daughters and leave for Newfoundland, the place his ancestors came from. There Quoyle starts to deal with his fears and takes charge of his life. Quoyle is a complex character with a couple of interesting peculiarities. He unites a lot of different fears inside of him. It is worth to take more than a quick look at those fears.

Annie Proulx introduces a lot of other characters to the reader. Every character has their own fears. It also becomes evident how close pain and fear often are. I want to discuss where those fears might have come from, the way the characters try to cope with it, if they are able to fight their fears and if it is helpful to be confronted with one’s fears.

2 Quoyle

Annie Proulx describes her main character Quoyle as an antihero who is unable taking charge of his life. He is not able to find a qualified job, cannot keep his wife by his side and does not know how to educate his children. Quoyle is bulky and heavy, but inside he is kind-hearted like a child. He truly is an outsider whose life seems to be shipwrecked.

In the first chapter the reader already gets an impression of Quoyle’s deep-seated fears, which have their roots in his childhood. Quoyle was afraid of his father who used to remind him of all his failures in behaviour and attitude. He was also afraid of his brother who used to call him unkind nicknames, and so Quoyle had the idea that he might have been given to the wrong family (p. 2). It is a big problem for Quoyle to identify with his family.

Quoyle has always been hiding his big fleshy chin behind his hand. He feels uneasy when people can see his real face. Annie Proulx uses this as metaphor for disguising the “inner face”. Quoyle is so sensible and frail, he does not want people to know too much about him. He is afraid to be hurt again when people know more about his scars on his soul. But this reserve surely is also a reason that it is not easy for Quoyle to find friends. At school he did not seem to have any friends. Otherwise he would not be astounded to hear that Bunny likes her first day in school. During his own school time he felt “shunned and miserable” (p. 190). In the beginning of the book the only kind of friend he has is Partridge. Quoyle is a maverick until he moves to Newfoundland. Here acquaintances seem to turn to friendships quite fast. Quoyle is accepted, respected and integrated into the community immediately. He feels as if he has found a new family and Dennis and his wife are like parents to him he never had. He needn’t fear to be alone or excluded anymore.

In the beginning Quoyle works for a newspaper, which hires and fires him whenever it likes to. But he does not dare to complain about this situation. He rather keeps quiet and does not defend his rights. The reader already gets a clear impression that Quoyle is a cringer, too quiet and shy. He is not very self confident at all and imagines headlines about himself, for example “Stupid Man Does Wrong Thing Once More” (p. 89).

Quoyle is cheated by his wife Petal all the time. But he still loves her. This shows his good heart again. When Petal dies in a car crash and his parents commit suicide in the very same chapter, Annie Proulx draws a picture of the cruel and bad world we seem to live in. So why should a man like Quoyle, who is tortured by his fate continuously, not have such immense fears inside of him? At the very beginning of the book he already is at a low of his life so far. But this crisis also offers him a big chance. His aunt encourages him to start his life anew in Newfoundland. This is also a chance to fight his fears. But Annie Proulx puts Quoyle in a different world, which seems to be an inhuman place on earth. Newfoundland is a very rough area where it is hard to survive. The people living there even seem to be as hard and rough. Sexual assaults seem to be the order of the day. It becomes evident that it will not be very easy for Quoyle to get in charge of his new life. The circumstances are even harder as before. But if Quoyle is able to overcome his fears in this place, he can do it everywhere.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


The meaning of fear in Annie Proulx’ novel “The Shipping News”
University of Flensburg  (English)
Temporary American Fiction: Novels and Stories by Annie Proulx
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
432 KB
without secondary literature
Annie Proulx, Shipping News, Proulx
Quote paper
Stephan Holm (Author), 2000, The meaning of fear in Annie Proulx’ novel “The Shipping News”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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