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 herself to be mistreated by David and never attempts to get up and walk away from their difficult marriage, she is never the less the victim of a chauvinist male. David victimizes Anna by degrading her, by seeing her as a piece of flesh that he married. She pretends that the relationship is ordinary, perfect, all the while secretly despising David. When David forces Anna to strip so that he can film her for "Random Samples," the narrator remains on the steps, watching. "I wanted to run down to the dock and stop them, fighting was wrong, we weren't allowed to, if we did both sides got punished as in a real war" (136).
This scene proves to be the turning point in the eyes of the narrator, for the masks that David and Anna had worn were slowly crumbling. Anna runs off and sleeps with Joe, leaving David alone. She has become the victimizer. Conversely, David sees himself as the victim. "You don't know what she does to me," he said with a slight whine. "She asks for it, she makes me do it" (138). Like Anna, he continues to put up a front to maintain his status in the relationship. Because they have both grown comfortable in their assumed roles, pulling themselves out of it becomes too difficult, too painful. The narrator...