The Black and White World of Atwood's Surfacing Essay

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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
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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 sees this and can identify. This may be why she chooses not to intervene on Anna's behalf.

Atwood places great emphasis on the narrator's feelings towards both Americans and Canadians. In the novel, America represents the great victimizer, while Canada represents the victim. Author Robert Lecker notes that "The narrator is under the illusion that both
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