Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary



The narrator walks back toward the motel, stopping briefly at a store. A woman with a light mustache is behind the counter, and two men in Elvis Presley haircuts are at the counter in the back. The narrator awkwardly buys some groceries and leaves as the shopkeeper makes fun of her inadequate French. She thinks about how there used to be just one store in the town, run by a woman called Madame ("none of the women had names then") who was missing one hand.

She arrives back at the bar. Joe asks her if she learned anything and she says no. She remembers their first meeting and considers maybe he likes her because she shows no emotion. She tells the others she'd like to go to the lake for a few days and look around. They agree—they plan to go fishing. She recalls her father being upset when she left her husband and child; he considers leaving your own child an "unpardonable sin."

The four friends hire a man named Evans to take them by boat to the island where the narrator's father's house is. They pull up to the dock. The narrator thinks of her brother falling off the dock when they were kids and nearly drowning.


In this chapter it becomes clear that not knowing is not only related to the theme of natural versus artificial but also to the theme of separation versus wholeness. First is the "mystery" of the shopkeeper's missing hand. The narrator "wanted to know how the hand had come off and ... whether [her] own hand could ever come off." However, the narrator was happier not knowing something that might be scary—happy to live in a false, safer reality by refusing the fearful knowledge. It is also significant that the woman's hand had been separated from her body. She was not whole. This is not the only example of severed body parts readers will encounter, a reoccurring motif.

Not knowing connects the two themes in another example as well. The narrator elaborates on how much she doesn't know about her friends. David "spent four years in New York and became political ... during the sixties, I'm not sure when," she says. "My friends' pasts are vague to me and to each other also."
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