Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 1 Chapter 8 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 1, Chapter 8 | Summary



The next morning as the narrator prepares the fish, David and Joe film its innards for Random Samples. After breakfast she begins to pack up, but David says he wants to stay another week, and Joe agrees. Anna is not thrilled with the idea, and neither is the narrator. When Evans arrives David arranges for him to come back in a week while the narrator retreats to the outhouse. She recalls hiding from people during birthday parties and other social occasions, as well as being the victim in other children's games. These memories of childhood cause her to question the nature of memory and to review her life's narrative to make sure it still "fits." She senses her memory is intact until one point, the time she "left," when it becomes disjointed. She has a moment of panic, but when David knocks on the outhouse door she comes back to herself.

Later she goes for a swim and remembers jumping off the dock. One time her brother had nearly drowned here, but their mother saved him. As a child she had worried about where her brother would have gone if he'd died. She also remembers diving when she was young and staring upward at the sky through the water.


The power dynamic among the four still favors David, whose desire to stay an extra week easily wins out. It's not completely clear why he wants to stay, but it seems to have something to do with the way he smiles at the narrator as if he's won "a lottery." The couples' relationships seem strained by this: Joe quickly sides with David while Anna and the narrator are unhappy with the change in plans. Relationship troubles also come into play when the narrator describes having sex with Joe as physically satisfying but also anonymous and perfunctory. In a variation on the severed body part motif, she imagines "two people making love with paper bags over their heads, not even any eyeholes."

The narrator struggles with intense, painful memories of being victimized by other children, her brother's near drowning, and fears of being hunted by "some indefinite thing with no name." These intense memories bring on a sense of confusion. This state is reflected in her sensory experience: "The window ... hasn't changed, but the shapes are inaccurate as though everything has warped slightly." She can't be sure her memories are her own. She spirals into fear, thinking, "If the events are wrong the feelings I remember about them will be wrong too." As she checks her memories "like an alibi," she senses there are missing chunks after the time she "left." She doesn't say which leaving she means; one possibility is the time she left her ex-husband. In any case she is aware parts of her memory are missing, and this causes her to feel unmoored from herself. She recaptures her sense of self by repeating her name "like a chant."

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