On: Margaret Atwood's Surfacing Academic blogs:
Atwood's Surfacing
Coetzee's Disgrace
T. S. Eliot's Prufrock


       Modernity is seen by our narrator as an imposition, and this stems from the manner in which her parents brought her up, and her experience of abortion. She feels a deep sense of betrayal with regards the abortion, and with it comes a deep need to assign blame. Modernity, in all its guises, has to take this blame.
       Correspondingly, a state of nature is seen as a positive condition. It is toward nature that this young woman is journeying – not just to search for her father, but to try to heal the spiritual/metaphorical scars inflicted on her by the Modern.

       Unpacking Some Examples:

"Sex used to smell like rubber gloves and now it does again. No more handy green plastic packages, moon-shaped so that the woman can pretend she’s still natural, cyclical, instead of a chemical slot machine.” (74)
       This entire paragraph is a statement against ‘Modern Life’ – the way others, predominantly men, interfere with the natural order and processes of Birth, womanhood. And also, how women go along with it. Note use of the term “cyclical”. This relates specifically to discussions of ‘Wholeness’. When you break a natural cycle, or attempt to control a natural rhythm, you are engaging in a form of oppression. The narrator feels particularly oppressed by these outside forces – thus, the escape to nature. (cf, first Chapter of Section Three, p.155: “…the moon is rising,” to, “he needs to grow more fur.”)
       The slot machine metaphor also requires exploration. Not only a sign of modernity, the slot machine is a gambling tool, and has associations with irresponsibility. This form of gambling connotes mindlessness – the mindless popping of pills; and remember that such machines don’t pay out very often. When this chemical slot machine (woman) does ‘pay out’, what is the ‘jackpot’? Imagine.

“…the middle of the war, flecked grey newsreels I never saw, bombs and concentration camps, the leaders roaring from inside their uniforms, pain and useless death, flags rippling in time to anthems.” (12)
       Although these are not the narrator’s first hand experiences, they are things she believes to correspond with war and inhumanity. Last three clauses denote bravado, show, which is ugly to her. Thus it should not surprise us that David’s bravado receives a similar, cold reception. Note the consecutive prepositions, “from inside”, as though the leaders were hiding behind armour, a layer of some kind – and relate to David’s ‘skin’ later on.
1. Introduction
       To the students
2. The Techniques
       Narrative Position
       Narrative Structure
       Parataxis as Metaphor
3. The Tensions
       [Spiritual] Journey
       Language as theme
       Garden vs. Wilderness
4. Chapter Discussions
       Chapter One
       Chapter Two
       Chapter Three
       Chapter Four
5. The Other Characters

6. Wider Reading
       Academic books

Copyright © Richard Cheadle, 2004-2006. All rights reserved.

Richard Cheadle, Hemsted House, Benenden School, Nr. Cranbrook, Kent. TN17 4AA.