Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 2 Chapter 10 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 2, Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

Time seems to move slowly as the narrator increasingly dreads what might happen if they encounter her father. She wants to "get them off the island, to ... save all of them from knowledge." David fishes, Anna reads, the narrator works on her illustrations, and Joe watches her. Her sketch of a giant ends up looking like a football player. Joe seems bored and unhappy. She realizes it is unfair for her to stay with him because she gives him "unlimited supplies of nothing."

The narrator proposes going to pick blueberries. The four pack a lunch, get in the canoes, and paddle to another island, which is covered with blueberry bushes. As they pick Joe says they should get married. She says no: they already live together so it wouldn't make any difference. He says he thinks she doesn't care about him. She insists she does care, while privately thinking about leaving him. She tells him she was married before and had a child, and she doesn't want to go through it again. She recalls, with distaste, the day of her wedding.

Later they all eat blueberry pie and talk politics. David, Joe, and Anna read books and old issues of National Geographic while the narrator looks through old scrapbooks. Afterward she hides the scrapbooks under her mattress.

Analysis

As this chapter begins, there is growing tension and emotional distance between Joe and the narrator. The narrator takes the blame for this on herself, saying she overwhelms him with "nothing." Yet it should be pointed out he isn't Prince Charming. He passively goes along with whatever David wants, spends a good deal of time staring and sulking, and undermines her sense of herself as an artist with his mangled pots.

The narrator's description of her wedding day is of particular importance. She describes signing the papers at her wedding and the sights, smells, and sensations accompanying the memory. She recalls the smell of antiseptic, her new husband saying, "It's over, feel better?" and "It's better this way," her shaking legs, and an ache. These details do not fit well in a memory of a wedding, even one that led to an unhappy marriage. They make far more sense when the true memory is revealed later in the book, like puzzle pieces that finally snap together.

An interesting connection to Chapter 1 occurs in the midst of this wedding day memory. As they leave the post office where they were married, the narrator recalls seeing a fountain with "dolphins and a cherub with part of the face missing." In Chapter 1 the narrator notices a similarly described fountain as they enter her childhood town: "an eighteenth-century fountain ... stone dolphins and a cherub with part of the face missing." In Chapter 1 the narrator commented the fountain "looks like an imitation but it may be real." Now it becomes clear why the narrator had this strange reaction. The fountain in Chapter 1 was too similar to something in an unreliable memory to be trusted. At some level the narrator knows her mind is creating a fiction. She just doesn't know what the reality is—not yet.

It's significant that part of the cherub's face is missing: it engages the severed body parts motif. Two other instances of the severed body parts motif appear in this chapter: the narrator's description of coins as metal disks with "leaves on one side and a man's head chopped off at the neck on the reverse" and images in her childhood scrapbooks of "women's dresses clipped from mail-order catalogues, no bodies in them." These underscore the narrator's profound sense of separation or disconnection from herself.

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