Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 2 Chapter 14 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 2, Chapter 14 | Summary



David and Joe take some shots of the dead heron for Random Samples. The narrator assumes the bird was killed by the Americans they had passed earlier. Since herons aren't good for food, there is no reason to kill one. While fishing, the narrator recalls a childhood memory of going inside an abandoned tugboat and seeing drawings of vaginas on the walls. She had been shocked they were "cut off like that from the bodies that ought to have gone with them."

Later the narrator talks to Anna about David. Anna worries David will be angry because she forgot her makeup. She says David "waits for excuses" to treat her badly. The narrator says maybe Anna should leave him. That night in their tent, Joe tells the narrator they can just go back to the way they were before he brought up marriage and love. She says no.


In the narrator's mind, Americans are associated with violence and destruction without cause. So the dead heron—a bird that isn't a pest and isn't good for food—is symbolic of senseless killing and emblematic of American behavior. This is, presumably, in contrast with the Canadian way of interacting with nature.

The severed body parts motif takes an unusual form in this chapter. The narrator recalls the drawings of disembodied vaginas and perhaps other sexual body parts she had seen in the old tugboat. The severed body part images so far have focused on the head and hands—separating thought, emotion, and action, perhaps. Given previous conversations about birth control, sex, and love, this new imagery suggests discomfort with the idea that people have separated sex from the rest of the self. The narrator's shock at seeing the vaginas apart from their bodies shows her longing for wholeness, especially in the sexual realm. However, the image of disembodied vaginas is not unlike the image of people having sex with bags over their heads—an image the narrator found somewhat comforting or appealing earlier in the novel. This suggests mixed feelings: she longs for wholeness and integration but also finds separation comforting. She wants to know but is also afraid of knowing.

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