The Psychological Journey of the Narrator in Atwood’s Surfacing Essay

The Psychological Journey of the Narrator in Atwood’s Surfacing Essay

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The Psychological Journey of the Narrator in Atwood’s Surfacing  


    In Surfacing, a novel by Margaret Atwood, the narrator undertakes three basic journeys: a physical quest to search for her lost father, a biographical journey into her past, and most importantly a psychological journey. The psychological journey allows the narrator to reconcile her past and ultimately leads to the conclusion of the physical journey. In this psychological voyage into her innerself, the narrator, while travelling from cognizant rational reasoning to subconscious dissociated reality progresses through three stages.

In the first stage, the narrator is in touch with reality; she lives and exists in a state of mind known in Freudian psychology as the Ego. The Ego is defined as "the element of being that consciously and continuously enables an individual to think, feel and act." (Barnhardt, 667). The ego is based on a reality principle, in which, a person reacts in "realistic ways that will bring long term pleasure rather than pain or destruction" (Meyers, 414). The narrator's inability to cope with disagreeable thoughts such as her father's possible death is evidenced early in the novel. The narrator states: "nothing is the same, I don't know the way anymore. I slide my tongue around the ice cream, trying to concentrate on it, they put seaweed in it now, but I'm starting to shake, why is the road different, he shouldn't have allowed them to do it, I want to turn around and go back to the city and never find out what happened to him. I'll start crying, that would be horrible, none of them would know what to do and neither would I. I bite down into the cone and I can't feel anything for a minute but the knife-hard pain up the side of my face...


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...to reality: "The lake is quiet, the trees surround me, asking and giving nothing" (Atwood, 224).

Thus, the narrator has completed a psychological journey from snaeness to madness and then again in a fullcircle, travelling through three distinct stages: the Ego, the Superego, and the Id. The narrator by completing the psychological journey into the subconscious is able to resolve the biographical and physical journeys. Therefore, with the past and present conflicts resolved, it can be most likely assumed that the narrator will assimilate herself back into reality. She may have a chance to become human again.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Surfacing. Simon and Schuster: New york, 1972

Barnhardt, Clarence L. Ed. The World Book Dictionary, Field Enterprises Publishing Co: Chicago, 1975.

Meyers, David. Psychology. Worth Publishing:U.S.A., 1992

 

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