The Black and White World of Atwood's Surfacing Essay

The Black and White World of Atwood's Surfacing Essay

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The Black and White World of Atwood's Surfacing    

   Many people elect to view the world and life as a series of paired opposites-love and hate, birth and death, right and wrong. As Anne Lamott said, "it is so much easier to embrace absolutes than to suffer reality" (104). This quote summarizes the thoughts of the narrator in Margaret Atwood's novel Surfacing.  The narrator, whose name is never mentioned, must confront a past that she has tried desperately to ignore (7). She sees herself and the world around her as either the innocent victim or the victimizer, never both. Atwoods use of opposing characters and themes throughout the novel serves to support the narrators view of life as "black and white," things that she can categorize as either a victim or a victimizer. Critical moments in the novel work to reverse the assumed roles and, for the narrator, only after her submerged memory has surfaced can she begin to see the possibility of life as more than a binary reality.

Anna plays the role of the classic submissive female married to David's classic chauvinist male. "Wanting to remain attractive to her husband, Anna attempts to conform to the eroticized and commodified images of women promulgated in the mass culture" (Bouson 44). Although the novel is set during the 1970"s, the decade of one of the great feminist movements in our history, Anna remains a woman who maintains herself for her husbands benefit. In a critical scene in the novel, the narrator sees Anna applying makeup. When she (the narrator) tells her that it is unnecessary where they are Anna says "He doesn't like to see me without it," and then quickly adds, "He doesn't know I wear it" (41).

To the narrator, Anna is a victim. Although she allows he...

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...l E. "Margaret Atwood and the Poetics of Duplicity." The Art of Margaret Atwood. Ed. Arnold E. Davidson. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1981.


Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. New York: Doubleday. 1994.


Lecker, Robert. "Janus Through the Looking Glass: Atwood's First Three Novels." The Art of Margaret Atwood. Ed. Arnold E. Davidson. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1981.


Shepherd, Valerie. "Narrative Survival: The power of personal narration, discussed through the personal story-telling of fictional characters, particularly those created by Margaret Atwood." Language and Communication. 15.4 (1995): 355-373.


Most of the novels characters can be classified as either a victim or a victimizer, but none more so than David and Anna. A classic submissive female, Anna maintains her marriage to David, the classic chauvinist male.


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