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 narrator was prepared for change. She was ready to take the plunge and resurface in her true form.
Weighed down by alienation and loneliness, the narrator considered Anna, whom she had known for merely two months, her best woman friend. Although she trusted Anna, her boyfriend Joe, and Anna’s husband David, the narrator wished that they were not going to her home "territory" with her, as she was uneasy and felt that "to be deaf and dumb would be easier." (Surfacing, 12) At the onset of their trip, the narrator already felt her apart-ness from her friends, for she knew her reason for returning home embarrassed them – she was worried about her father. For her city friends, the word "parent" was almost a taboo because they have abandoned theirs long ago. Careening freely through life, the narrator’s three friends unknowingly led the observant narrator through a maze of questions about herself and about life. David’s filming of Random Samples during their trip led the narrator to question how one could reach one’s goal without any plans in mind, but David retorted that she was close-minded. For the film, David ordered Anna to strip for the camera in that "menacing gentleness" tone of voice (145), which the narrator recognized as the taunting before a trick or a punchline. The narrator realized the unjustness of this and she wanted to fight, but at this point, she was still afraid and felt that "the only defence was flight, invisibility." (145) Nearing her realization of her true self, however, the narrator had the courage to unravel the reels of film and fling them into the waters, to be washed away, forever.
David believed that they were the "new bourgeoisie" (43). Presentation of oneself to others was high on David’s list when the group met Claude. Slipping into his yokel dialect, David wanted to prove that he too was a "man of the people" (30) He was no expert at communications, yet David taught an Adult Education Communications programme. He treated his job lightly though, for he dubbed it "Adult Vegetation" class. As with her friends, the narrator was not entirely satisfied with her career as an illustrator. She detested going to interviews, in which she was at a loss of what to wear: the clothing felt "strapped to [her], like an aqualung or an extra, artificial limb." (56) Furthermore, the narrator defied illustrating false, cheery images of towers and princesses. She was agitated that the stories never "revealed the essential things about them, such as what they ate or whether their towers and...