Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 2 Chapter 16 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 2, Chapter 16 | Summary



Tomorrow Evans is coming to take them back, so the narrator's time is running out. She checks the map of rock painting sites again and decides to check another location—a closer one. However, the location is underwater, so she'll have to dive to find it. She puts on a sweatshirt over her bathing suit and goes down to the lake, where, unseen, she watches as David tries to get Anna to pose naked for Random Samples. Anna accuses David of trying to humiliate her. David mocks her and says, "Now just take it off like a good girl or I'll have to take it off for you." She takes off her bikini, gives the middle finger, and dives into the lake.

After Anna and Joe leave, the narrator approaches David, still on the dock. As he fiddles with the bikini top Anna left behind, she asks why he did it. He says, "She asks for it"; she makes him do these things by going off with other men. The narrator takes a canoe and paddles away.


In the first paragraph of this chapter, the narrator gives a reason for her anxiety about running out of time. Her brain is "covering over the bad things and filling the empty spaces with an embroidery of calculations and numbers." This statement both describes her attempt to find and face the truth about her father and her attempt to find out the truth about herself. As fast as she is working to delve into these parallel mysteries, her mind is working to keep the truth covered over. She knows she has repressed or altered memories, and she wants to know why.

Witnessing the scene between David, Anna, and Joe causes the narrator to realize the similarity between herself and David, which has become apparent during their stay on the island. She thinks, "We are the ones that don't know how to love, there is something essential missing in us." The scene also helps the narrator understand David and Anna don't have an emotional bond of love, but they do have a bond. She thinks, "They hate each other; that must be almost as absorbing as love." She likens this to the barometer couple from Madame and Paul's house. The wooden couple has a bond that can't be broken, but it isn't love: it's glue. These bonds are "almost like peace," she notes.

Then she recalls her own mother and father working together to saw wood, and the two of them working together are another version of the barometer couple. Like David and Anna and the barometer couple, her parents had a bond. What is the nature of her parents' bond? In this symbolic image it is sawing—or severing—a birch tree, a tree that, in the opening paragraph of the book, is the victim of a destructive disease moving up from the south.

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