Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 2 Chapter 15 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 2, Chapter 15 | Summary



The next morning the four set out to film the rock paintings for Random Samples. Although the narrator had been confident of the location of the rock painting based on her father's notes, they do not find it. On the way back to their campsite, they meet and talk to the Americans, only to find out they are actually Canadians. The narrator is angry. She had been convinced Canadians wouldn't have killed a heron for no reason.

They portage back along the same trail they traveled before. They pass the heron again, and the narrator feels complicit in its senseless killing: "The trouble some people have being German ... I have being human." She recalls her brother keeping small animals like frogs in jars and tin cans, sometimes leaving them to die. She'd let them out once and he'd been angry. So she never did again, afraid to do it, but knowing giving in to this fear meant more would die. The four reach the main lake, load the canoes, and set off back toward the cabin.


The disillusionment of finding out the men she thought were Americans are Canadians develops the theme of Canadian identity by describing its absence. Like the birch trees in the first paragraph of the novel, which are being slowly killed by a disease moving northward from the south, Canadian identity is also dying from the spread of American culture northward from the south. The tendency to kill and destroy for no good reason, symbolized by the heron, has spread from Americans to Canadians.

The narrator takes this personally, likening it to being German in the time of Hitler—a sense of shame because of citizenship in a country or membership in a group. But the group the narrator is ashamed to be part of is the human race. If senseless killing is the norm not only for Americans but also for Canadians, perhaps all humans have this tendency inside them. She then concludes that passively standing by while someone else does violence makes a person complicit in the violence. This concept is expanded on by the memory of how she allowed her brother to intimidate her into leaving his disturbing experiments alone.

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