Essay on The Painful and Lonely Journey in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing

Essay on The Painful and Lonely Journey in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing

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The Painful and Lonely Journey in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing


Not all journeys are delightful undertakings. In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, the nameless narrator underwent a painful process of shedding the false skins she had acquired in the city, in order to obtain a psychic cleansing towards an authentic self. By recognizing the superficial qualities of her friends, uncovering the meaning of love, and rediscovering her childhood, the narrator was prepared for change. She was ready to take the plunge and resurface in her true form.

Weighed down by alienation and loneliness, the narrator considered Anna, whom she had known for merely two months, her best woman friend. Although she trusted Anna, her boyfriend Joe, and Anna’s husband David, the narrator wished that they were not going to her home "territory" with her, as she was uneasy and felt that "to be deaf and dumb would be easier." (Surfacing, 12) At the onset of their trip, the narrator already felt her apart-ness from her friends, for she knew her reason for returning home embarrassed them – she was worried about her father. For her city friends, the word "parent" was almost a taboo because they have abandoned theirs long ago. Careening freely through life, the narrator’s three friends unknowingly led the observant narrator through a maze of questions about herself and about life. David’s filming of Random Samples during their trip led the narrator to question how one could reach one’s goal without any plans in mind, but David retorted that she was close-minded. For the film, David ordered Anna to strip for the camera in that "menacing gentleness" tone of voice (145), which the narrator recognized as the taunting before a trick or a punchline. The narrator realized ...


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...ulent lives of her friends, the narrator was able to find the untruths in her own psyche. She was also able to relieve herself from her fabricated past when she examined her love relationships with others. The narrator, in perceiving her childhood through new eyes, was able to reconcile herself with her authentic self, and was able to become one with nature. Though her psyche has been cleansed, the narrator must nevertheless choose the right paths on her own in order to keep her true self.


Work Cited

Atwood, Maragaret. Surfacing. New York: Bantam, 1972.

Works Consulted

Bouson, J. B. Brutal Choreographies: Oppositional Strategies and Narrative Design in the Novels of Margaret Atwood. Amherst: U of Massachutes P, 1993.

Hutcheon, Linda. The Canadian Postmodern: A Study of Contemporary English - Canadian Fiction. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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