Colonialism in Margaret Atwood's 'Surfacing'
Margaret Atwood's novel 'Surfacing' demonstrates the complex question of identity for an English-speaking Canadian female. Identity, for the protagonist has become problematic because of her role as a victim of colonial forces. She has been colonized by men in the patriarchal society in which she grew up, by Americans and their cultural imperialism, or neo-colonialism as it has come to be known as, and the Euro-centric legacy that remains in her country although the physical presence of English and French rulers have gone. This collective colonial experience of the protagonist, and the analogous nature of imperial and feminist discourses, is succinctly described by Coral Ann Howells, quoted by Eleanora Rao in 'Strategies for Identity',
'Women's experience of the power politics of gender and their problematic relation to patriarchal traditions of authority have affinities with the Canadian attitudes to the cultural imperialism of the United States as well as its ambivalence towards its European inheritors.' (P.xxiv)
Feminist and postcolonialist theories share much common ground due to their examination of the voice, and the position of, the subaltern in society. Their critiques of, and struggles against, domination by the white male has led to their alignment and relevant discussions about their similiar problems, affects and strategies. (It may be of interest to scholars in this area that, since the 1980s, there has emerged a divergent element to feminist postcolonial theory which has focused on the 'double colonization' that women colonized by both race and gender have suffered, leading to questions of which should be dealt with first, the discrimination they have suffered for not being white or not being male.) What is presented by Atwood's 'Surfacing' is the analogous nature of patriarchy, cultural imperialism and geographical colonisation and how this combined colonial experience has left the victim with feelings of displacement and disconnectedness from their language, history and culture, which in turn has led to a fractured sense of self and a desperate need to regain and reclaim identity.
The damage caused to those who have been colonized (which I use as an umbrella term to encompass the collective experience outlined above) is platformed by Atwood through her focus on how one individual has been affected, and just as the novel chooses to focus on certain effects and issues of colonization, so I choose to focus on those of language, history and culture. This brief examination of their problematic nature for the protagonist of the novel should demonstrate their role in feminist postcolonial discourse, their importance to an individual's construction of identity, and how vital our sense of self is to our mental well-being. 'Surfacing' does not deal with the physical act of colonising...