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The narrator

Characters The narrator

Atwood avoids naming the narrator of Surfacing in order to emphasize the universality of the narrator’s feeling of alienation from society. The causes and effects of the narrator’s psychological transformation remain somewhat mysterious. The narrator feels emotionally numb, isolated by the numerous roles she is supposed to play in her life. Part of the cause is grief, and part of it is due to spending too much time in the wilderness. But the narrator’s madness also stems in large part from systematic social alienation. Atwood explores a woman’s place in all of its facets: as a human, a wife, a religious person, a mother, and a sexual being. The narrator’s madness seems to arise from her anger at all of the standard roles forced upon women. Her response to this alienation is to become an animal. She sees animals not as beasts without reason, but as graceful creatures that are better than humans at peacefully coexisting with nature. The result of the narrator’s transformation is a greater understanding of her place in society. This understanding comes out of necessity, because the narrator realizes that complete withdrawal from society will result in her death. However, the narrator also reaches new conclusions about how she will cope with society’s ills. She resolves to rejoin society without succumbing to the pressures that once subdued her.