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Main Ideas

Motifs

Main Ideas Motifs

American Expansion

Atwood packs Surfacing with images of Americans invading and ruining Canada. The Americans install missile silos, pepper the village with tourist cabins, leave trash everywhere, and kill for sport. David even goes so far as to theorize an American invasion of Canada for Canadian fresh water. Atwood depicts American expansion as a result of psychological and cultural infiltration. The narrator calls Americans a brain disease, linking American identity to behaviors rather than nationality. To the narrator, an American is anyone who commits senseless violence, loves technology, or over-consumes. David claims he hates Americans, yet he loves baseball and imitates Woody Woodpecker. Atwood depicts American expansion as destructive and a corruptive psychological influence.

The Power

The narrator mentions power several times before going mad and actively seeking “the power.” In Chapter 4, she remembers thinking that seeds from a certain plant will make her all-powerful. In Chapter 9, she says that doctors pretend childbirth is their power and not the mother’s. In Chapter 15, she remembers alternately pretending to be a helpless animal and an animal with power. The narrator’s later quest for “the power” emphasizes her response to alienation. Ever since childhood, she has been isolated and emotionally numb, crippled by unsuitable religious ideals and gender roles. The narrator’s psychotic search for “the power” represents the false hope that by withdrawing from society she can regain her humanity. Ultimately, the narrator gains power by resolving not to be powerless. She acknowledges that in order to function in society, she must learn to love and communicate. The narrator’s quest for “the power” is similar to her anxiety over social alienation.