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

     Narrative Position

       Narrative Position, or 'point of view', is the 'angle' from which the story is being narrated. It takes account of three different factors:

1. Person
2. Place
3. Time
       In Surfacing this angle shifts, so it's important to spot where, and with what consequences for the understanding of the story. In the following section on Narrative Structure we'll look at how and why these shifts occur. For this section, let's look at the story-teller herself.
       We are principally given the story through a first person narrator, who is also involved in the action of the story ('intradiegetic'). These are the two most immediate factors to deal with, as they indicate what we look for in receiving this particular story.
       We know, with hindsight, that the Narrator has been deceiving herself until the moment where she 'surfaces', and this means that for a large portion of the story we, too, are being deceived. In Chapter Five she admits as much, though you have to be quick to catch it:

A section of my own life, sliced off like a Siamese twin, my own flesh cancelled. Lapse, relapse, I have to forget. (42)
       She briefly hints at the abortion, and its suppression in this narrative - even if in the same paragraph she is suggesting that the baby was actually born. We must now be wary of the flaws of this narrator; there are plenty of motives to think around if we are to locate a 'true reading' of the story. (This, for me, is where the interpretive challenge and fun of this book begins.) In principle, the 'first person present' perspective should give us a sense of 'immediacy' - we get to receive the story as it unfolds, with little distortion or intervention. In practice, because of the flaws of the Narrator, this immediacy is an illusion.
       The Narrator does make a foray into a different style, which perhaps shows a willingness to attempt a 'true' account: Toward the end of the first Chapter, she tries for third person, past tense, 'omniscient' narrative:

    They used to go over it as fast as possible, their father knew every inch of it and could take it (he said) blindfolded, which is what they often seemed to be doing...
    That won't work, I can't call them "they" as if they were somebody else's family: I have to keep myself from telling that story. (8)
       For the Narrator, the danger inherent to telling 'that story' seems to be that of objectivity, and she freely admits not being interested in that style of telling. It's an interesting, and fitting, manifesto, and the form endorses the goal of the book. The final chapter begins, 'This above all, to refuse to be a victim.' The Narrator's motive behind telling the story in this style has been to present a tale of individuality. Telling that story in any way other than subjectively would undermine the ethos of the project.

Now go straight to Narrative Structure, which confuses things.
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.