“Surfacing” is a novel by renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood, first published in 1972. The novel explores a wide range of themes, primarily centered around identity, self-discovery, the complex relationship between humans and nature, and the impact of modernization on traditional ways of life. Structurally, “Surfacing” can be divided into three broad sections, each reflecting the protagonist’s evolving emotional and psychological journey as she reconnects with her past and confronts her inner demons.
Themes in “Surfacing”
Before delving into the structural division of the novel, it’s essential to understand the overarching thematic thrust of “Surfacing.”
- Identity and Self-Discovery: At the heart of the novel is the protagonist’s quest for self-discovery and understanding of her identity. The story revolves around an unnamed female narrator who returns to her family’s remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness. Her journey of self-discovery is closely linked to her exploration of her own past, her relationships, and the reconnection with her cultural and ancestral roots.
- The Complex Relationship Between Humans and Nature: Nature plays a significant role in the novel, representing both a powerful and transformative force. The characters’ interactions with the natural world, particularly the wild and untamed Canadian wilderness, are symbolic of their internal struggles and their desire to shed societal constraints and expectations in favor of a more primal and authentic existence.
- Modernization vs. Tradition: The tension between modernization and traditional ways of life is a central theme. The novel portrays the clash between the urban and rural, the old and new, and the loss of cultural heritage. The characters grapple with the encroachment of industrialization and consumer culture into their remote wilderness, which threatens their way of life and the natural environment.
Structural Division of “Surfacing”
The novel “Surfacing” can be divided into three broad sections, each marked by significant changes in the protagonist’s journey and her evolving relationship with the themes outlined above.
Section 1: Return to the Wilderness
The first section of the novel introduces the protagonist and sets the stage for her journey of self-discovery. The narrator, an artist from the city, returns to her family’s remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness with her boyfriend, Joe, and a married couple, David and Anna. At this stage, she is emotionally detached from her surroundings and struggles with a sense of disconnection from her own life. She appears to be seeking solace in the wilderness, a place of her childhood memories, to come to terms with her complicated past.
In this section, the wilderness is presented as a pristine and mysterious place, full of natural wonders. The group’s interactions with nature are initially superficial, characterized by casual activities such as fishing and hiking. However, as the narrative unfolds, the protagonist begins to develop a deeper connection with the environment. She observes the intricate details of the natural world, gradually connecting with her surroundings and with her own history.
Section 2: Descending into Madness
The second section of the novel takes a darker turn as the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery delves deeper into her psyche. As she uncovers hidden memories and confronts painful truths about her past, she starts to unravel emotionally. The wilderness becomes a reflection of her internal turmoil and a metaphor for the chaos within her mind.
The group’s interactions with the environment also become more intense and surreal. They embark on a series of bizarre and often disturbing activities, such as painting their bodies with mud and engaging in erratic behavior. These actions symbolize a departure from societal norms and a descent into a more primal, instinctual state.
At this point, the protagonist’s sense of identity is further fragmented. She begins to question the boundaries between herself, her surroundings, and the people around her. The complex relationship between humans and nature becomes even more pronounced, as the characters engage in rituals that blur the line between their humanity and the natural world. The protagonist’s connection to her past and her sense of self becomes increasingly intertwined with her relationship with the wilderness.
Section 3: Rediscovery and Reconnection
The final section of the novel sees the protagonist’s journey come full circle. She starts to piece together the fragments of her past and make sense of her complicated family history, her relationships, and her own identity. Her understanding of the complex relationship between humans and nature also evolves.
In this section, the wilderness is no longer a source of chaos but a place of healing and reconnection. The protagonist’s interactions with the natural world take on a more profound and spiritual dimension. She begins to see the environment as a source of wisdom, solace, and transformation. The wilderness becomes a metaphor for rebirth and rediscovery, and it is through her engagement with it that the protagonist begins to heal and reconnect with her true self.
As she confronts her past and comes to terms with her history, the protagonist ultimately finds a sense of identity and self-discovery. The novel ends with a sense of hope and renewal, as the protagonist emerges from her emotional turmoil and reconnect
s with her own humanity and her place within the natural world.
In Margaret Atwood’s “Surfacing,” the thematic thrust revolves around identity, self-discovery, the complex relationship between humans and nature, and the clash between modernization and tradition. Structurally, the novel can be divided into three distinct sections, each representing a phase of the protagonist’s journey as she returns to the Canadian wilderness to confront her past and her inner demons.
The novel captures the protagonist’s emotional and psychological evolution as she grapples with her history, her relationship with the natural world, and her own sense of self. Through her interactions with the wilderness, her companions, and the rituals that unfold, “Surfacing” delves into the depths of the human psyche and explores the complexities of identity and self-discovery within the context of a changing and often challenging world.
What is “Surfacing” by Margaret Atwood about?
“Surfacing” is a novel by Margaret Atwood that explores themes of identity, self-discovery, the complex relationship between humans and nature, and the tension between modernization and tradition. The story follows an unnamed female narrator who returns to her family’s remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness, embarking on a journey of self-discovery as she confronts her past and her inner demons.
What are the main themes in “Surfacing”?
The main themes in “Surfacing” include identity and self-discovery, the intricate relationship between humans and nature, and the conflict between modernization and traditional ways of life. The novel delves deeply into these themes, using the Canadian wilderness as a powerful backdrop for exploration.
How is “Surfacing” structured?
“Surfacing” is structured into three broad sections. The first section introduces the protagonist’s return to the wilderness and her initial detachment from her surroundings. The second section delves into her descent into madness and a deeper exploration of her psyche. The final section marks her rediscovery and reconnection with the wilderness and her true self.
What is the significance of the wilderness in “Surfacing”?
The wilderness in “Surfacing” serves as a symbolic and transformative backdrop. It represents the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery and her connection to her past. It also symbolizes the complex relationship between humans and the natural world. The wilderness plays a central role in the characters’ emotional and psychological development throughout the novel.
How does “Surfacing” explore the clash between modernization and tradition?
The clash between modernization and tradition is a central theme in the novel. As the characters return to the remote wilderness, they grapple with the encroachment of industrialization and consumer culture, which threatens their traditional way of life and the environment. “Surfacing” portrays the tension between the old and new ways of living and the loss of cultural heritage in the face of modernization.
What is the ultimate message or conclusion of “Surfacing”?
The ultimate message of “Surfacing” is one of self-discovery and reconnection. Through her interactions with the wilderness, the protagonist confronts her past, her inner turmoil, and her own sense of self. The novel suggests that embracing the complexities of one’s identity and connecting with the natural world can lead to healing and renewal.