Annie Proulx’s prose fiction novel ‘The Shipping News’ explores the complexities of individual’s navigation in our modern and increasingly globalised society. Proulx would agree with the statement ‘The global cannot be all bad nor the local all good. In our lives today, the two must coexist and we must learn to navigate both’, and her text provides evidence to this effect. The novel does not present the simplistic dichotomies of the global being negative and the local being positive, but instead focuses on characters navigation through both. Proulx demonstrates that these two different and often opposite sets of values can coexist in our lives and are both equally dependent on each other. The novel also explores individual’s responses to the changing realities of global culture, whether a retreat, an embrace, or a response in between these two polar extremes. Thus Proulx denotes the myriad of ways in which individuals can navigate their environment. Petal Bear, Agnis Hamm, Quoyle and Jack Buggit provide significant examples of this within their emerging global context.
Although the global can be bad, to try to isolate oneself from it can be detrimental to human existence. At the beginning of the novel the protagonist Quoyle, is portrayed as a dysfunctional human being living in the dysfunctional town of Mockingburg. The negative implications of the global on the individual are explicitly evident through Quoyle. Proulx rejects Quoyle’s way of navigating in this global setting, a self-imposed retreat which is evidently failing. This is his response to the changing realities of global culture, he chooses to attempt to isolate himself from global influence. Quoyle is looking to retreat to the local aspects of Mockingburg, but this local culture and community has been almost wholly disintegrated by global forces. His seclusion from the world around him can be seen through the passage which elaborates on Quoyle only reading ‘The Mockingburg Record’, for whom he fragmentally works. ‘So (Quoyle) managed to igonore terrorism, climatological change, collapsing governments, chemical spills, plagues, recession, and failing banks, floating debris, and disintergrating ozone layer… religious frauds, defective vehicles and scientific charlatans, mass murderers and serial killers, tidal waves of cancer, AIDS…mutant viruses…the discovery that the galaxies were streaming apocalyptically toward an invisible great attractor like flies into a vacuum cleaner nozzle’. Proulx employs accumulative imagery with hyperboles and similes to show Quoyle’s lack of knowledge of the global world. Although negative aspects of global culture are stated, his lack of acceptance of these things, Proulx shows, is what causes him to become a ‘failure’. Through this we can see that Proulx recognises that the global and local must coexist to make it possible for characters to successfully navigate through both.
The global is generally associated in this novel with bad aspects of modern life. Mockingburg is depicted as a subsection of global culture by Proulx, which can be seen through the quote ‘bedraggled…A place in its third death. Stumbled in two hundred years from the forests and woodland tribes, to farms, to a working-class city of machine tool and tire factories. A long recession emptied the downtown, killed the malls. Factories for sale. Slum streets, youths with guns in their pockets…’ This personifies Mockingburg while making reference to negative global and historical trends, such as colonialism, urbanisation, industrialism, and economic trends, painting the global environment as a whole in a negative light. Later in the text though, Proulx shows how this environment can be used positively, and how the local can also be bad.
Petal Bear, Quoyle’s wife, is a resulting offspring and the epitome of globalization. She represents the worst aspects of...