The Malignant American In Surfacing Essay

1449 words - 6 pages

The Malignant American in Surfacing


    Before traveling through Europe last summer, friends advised me to avoid being identified as an American.  Throughout Europe, the term American connotes arrogance and insensitivity to local culture.  In line with the foregoing stereotype, the unnamed narrator's use of the term American in Margaret Atwood's Surfacing is used to describe individuals of any nationality who are unempathetic and thus destructive.  The narrator, however, uses the word in the context of her guilt over her abortion and consequent emotional numbness.  The narrator's vituperative definition of American as an individual who is unempathetic and destructive is largely attributable to the narrator's projection of her own feelings of emotional dysfunction and guilt.

 

Consider an individual who is incapable of empathy.  Such a person has the potential to be enormously destructive to their surroundings.  Without the ability to identify with others, it becomes a matter of indifference whether others experience pain or joy.  The narrator rapidly begins to define an American as just such a psychopath.  As the narrator is fishing in a canoe, two Americans and a local guide pull up in their power boat proudly flying the Stars and Stripes fore and aft, rocking the canoe.  During the conversation in which one of the Americans is "friendly as a shark", the other American throws his cigar in the water and threatens to take his business elsewhere (66).  Of the Americans, the narrator comments, "if they don't get anything in fifteen minutes they'll blast off and scream around the lake in their souped-up boat, deafening the fish.  They're the kind that catch more than they can eat and they'd do it with dynamite if they could get away with it" (66).  The narrator chooses every word describing the encounter to emphasise her perception that Americans have a total lack of regard and even an active contempt for their environment.  Emotional numbness is the logical cause for such behaviour, as a lack of empathy enables an individual to act heedless of negative consequences to others.

 

The narrator's scathing treatment of Americans during the foregoing encounter is representative of the treatment she affords them throughout Surfacing.  Americans are variously described as "tapeworms" (129), "loon killers" (121), analogues to Hitler (129) and attackers (183).  Although the narrator frequently applies the label American to people who she thinks are citizens of the United States (US), she ultimately divorces the term from nationality. When the narrator discovers that two men who wantonly killed a heron are Canadian, she states, "It doesn't matter what country they're from, my head said, they're still Americans" (129).  In the narrator's mind, American is a term describing those who are emotionally numb and are capable of inflicting pain on others.

 

Given the intensity of the narrator's feelings about the term American, it...

Find Another Essay On The Malignant American in Surfacing

American Politics in the 1790s Essay

912 words - 4 pages In the 1790s, American society was split in half. On one side there was Alexander Hamilton, who believed in a strong central government and that the future of America lied in manufacturing and strong businesses. Opposing him was Thomas Jefferson, who believed America's strength should come from its states. He foresaw a nation of small and independent farmers, where the government would not need to become directly involved in the daily affairs of

Identity in the American Revolution Essay

1210 words - 5 pages Essay Question: What factors contributed to the formation of a distinctive sense of identity that was expressed by a significant individual or group in the American revolution?What were the characteristics of this identity, and what actions did this significant individual or group take to express their identity?A distinct patriotic American identity was formed during the American Revolution. A few vital factors were instrumental in forming this

Slavery in the American Colonies

888 words - 4 pages 1. In the American colonies, Virginians switched from indentured servants to slaves for their labor needs for many reasons. A major reason was the shift in the relative supply of indentured servants and slaves. While the colonial demand for labor was increasing, a sharp decrease occurred in the number of English migrants arriving in America under indenture. Slaves were permanent property and female slaves passed their status on to their children

The American Homefront in ww2

1089 words - 4 pages Bergman PAGE \* MERGEFORMAT 2 Abby BergmanMr. NortonLanguage17 May 2010"The American Home Front during World War II"IntroductionAlthough there was no fighting in America during World War II, the American home front still needed to be productive and support the war. Americans had to produce materials for all of the allied forces. This seems simple and natural for a war-based economy, but most US workers were fighting somewhere throughout the

American Politics in the 1790s

1214 words - 5 pages that a National Bank was a given power because it was "proper." Jefferson rebutted this by stating a National Bank was not "necessary" and hence unauthorized (Garraty).Foreign affairs in the 1790's, which were mainly related to France, did not have a great impact on American politics because all that resulted was merely a loose political view of the country; and actual political parties were not changed by the French Revolution at all. Republicans

Music in the American Revolution

2782 words - 11 pages In the American Revolution, music played an important part of American culture no matter what sector of society. The music of the era served as a social commentary on the political concerns of the period aside from entertainment. The music was expressed through many forms, songs, hymns and varied instrumental musical traditions that reflected the social conditions which created it. Church music was an important source of spiritual inspiration

Religoun in the American Revolution.

1055 words - 4 pages Religion played a very crucial and significant role in the United States especiallyafter the American Revolution. It offered a ethical consent to for opposition to the Britishand gave the average American proof that the revolution was justified in the eyes of God.The Revolutionary war split numerous denominations, especially that of The Church ofEngland. Their ministers were sworn by oath to support the King, and the Quakers, whowere

Culture in the American Colonies

786 words - 3 pages lay at the top. It was a view that is still very much a part of our own thinking.The disciples of the new science and the new social science placed their faith in the powers of human reason, and their movement became known as theEnlightenment. They had little use for organized religion, although they did not deny the existence of God. They created their own religious movement-Deism (many of the leaders of the American Revolution espoused Deism)-in

Changes in the American Family

3377 words - 14 pages . Rubin’s research shows that a lot can happen in just one generation. Much has been spoken lately of what Tom Brokaw has declared “The Greatest Generation;” those who fought in WWII. These Americans came back from the war, started families, and worked hard to achieve “The All American Dream.” But somewhere they must have missed something because this generation is the generation that produced the “pot smoking, free love hippies” who then produced the

Immigration in the American Government

1999 words - 8 pages most illegal immigrants come to this country to escape war, sexism, or poor living and economic conditions in their country, Alien labor has become vital to the American lifestyle and necessary for a good economy . Migrant workers, most of them illegal immigrants, supply the bulk of the labor force for picking and packing fresh fruit and vegetables. Without the labor that migrant workers provide, it would mean paying a great deal more for the same

Celebrities in the American Media

1413 words - 6 pages had just withstood. Even through all the sorrow and depression around him, the man in the photograph remains stoic and emotionless. This man represents the American media scene. Newscasters and reporters maintain an apathetic attitude towards suffering when reporting a story. While the “continuous newscast of the assassination and funeral of President John F. Kennedy…was an unprecedented…event”, it was not unlike the media to deprive the

Similar Essays

The Painful And Lonely Journey In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing

2881 words - 12 pages The Painful and Lonely Journey in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing Not all journeys are delightful undertakings. In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, the nameless narrator underwent a painful process of shedding the false skins she had acquired in the city, in order to obtain a psychic cleansing towards an authentic self. By recognizing the superficial qualities of her friends, uncovering the meaning of love, and rediscovering her childhood, the

The Theme Of Estrangement, Feminism And The Use Of Symbolism In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing

1471 words - 6 pages ). Moreover, Atwood also addresses the problems of understanding between French and English speakers and between those speaking the same language, too. In conclusion, I have presented several themes and topics that the book concentrates on, with the most distinctive being the theme of enstrangement from society, feministic point of view on the world, and strong anti-American feeling.Sources:ATWOOD, Margaret Eleanor. Surfacing. 1st ed. New York: Anchor

Quest For Self Identity In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing And The Bell Jar, By Sylvia Plath

2178 words - 9 pages in forming the Canadian literary canon and Atwood’s novel Surfacing was published in 1972. But The Bell Jar is American writer and poet Sylvia Plath's only novel, which was originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963. The novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of places and people changed. The book is often regarded as a roman à clef, with the protagonist's descent into mental illness paralleling Plath's own

The Wilderness In Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, Mary Austin’s Land Of Little Rain, And Gary Snyder’s

2702 words - 11 pages The Wilderness in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain, and Gary Snyder’s The Practice of the Wild Journeys into the wilderness test far more than the physical boundaries of the human traveler. Twentieth century wilderness authors move beyond the traditional travel-tour approach where nature is an external diversion from everyday life. Instead, nature becomes a catalyst for knowing our internal wilderness and our