April 26, 2013 by Vicki
Surfacing is Margaret Atwood’s second novel and one of the most thoughtprovoking stories I have read. Surfacing begins with an unnamed female narrator travelling back to her childhood home in rural Quebec to search for her missing father. We quickly realize that the protagonist continually fights a fear that she cannot name or understand. She also fears hostility from both the men with whom she travels. Her discovery of the true root of her fear and self-doubt launches her into a cycle of transformation that might be insanity.
Surfacing cannot be described as a book that you enjoy. Surfacing puts on show all the torrid examples of male-female relationships. The protagonist’s friends relationship is one of mental abuse where David continually humiliates and mocks Anna. He blames his actions on her perceived promiscuity with other men while openly flirting with other women. David is openly hostile to the concept of women’s rights. Anna spends her time trying to keep him pacified to avoid further humiliation. The only positive male character I could find within the novel is a male divine power which couples with a female divine power to create and balance the world. All human male characters seem arrogant, masochist, destructive and a perceived threat to the protagonist.
I struggled while reading Surfacing because I do not believe that men are the root cause of the evils of society. By the end of the novel, however, I found the message directed equally at both genders. What I took away from Surfacing is that in order for us to heal; we need to stop being victims. We need to stop allowing fear to rule our lives, but instead, live our lives fully. Now, I don’t mean that we should take stupid risks and I don’t think the protagonist means that either. Instead, we need to stop dividing the world into the “good” and the “bad” and realize that everything has element of both.
In Surfacing, the protagonist identifies American as a destructive force and then, accidentally assumes that a pair of Canadian was actually Americans because of their behaviour. She realizes, as a result, that it doesn’t matter if you are American or Canadian, male or female rather it matters what you as an individual chose. At the end of the novel, she chooses to not be a victim and to stop allowing these false divisions to keep her trapped with fear. I believe we all need to choose not to be victims; otherwise, we spend our lives building cages to protect ourselves from what we identify as threatening. We find ourselves living our lives trapped in the cages we built and calling it “security”.
Margaret Atwood’s novel Surfacing disturbs its readers with a vision of a woman trapped by her own caged and her journey to dismantle her cage. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thought-provoking read. I also find myself trying to identify my own cages of fear and attempting to dismantle them. May we all live our lives fully and dismantle any cages we accidentally build.
- Perth Writers Festival: A Conversation with Margaret Atwood and China Mieville (thesalonierresapartments.com)
- Ambitious April Action Plan (boudicabooks.org)