Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 2 Chapter 19 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 2, Chapter 19 | Summary



After supper, the narrator searches for the gift from her mother. When she enters her own room she senses "power, in my hands and running along my arms." She is certain the gift is in the scrapbooks she's hidden. Her search is interrupted by the arrival of four men: Claude, Paul, and two game wardens. They have come to report some Americans found her father's body while fishing. David relays the news. She believes David and Anna are making it up to hurt her.

After they leave she resumes her search. She finally finds the "gift": a childhood drawing of a woman with a baby in her belly standing by a man with horns and a tail. "The baby was myself before I was born, the man was God," she recalls. She knows the others think she isn't grieving correctly: she should be "filled with death." But she feels the opposite: "Nothing has died, everything is alive, everything is waiting to become alive."


In this chapter the narrator fully breaks from reality. She has a growing suspicion of her friends, who now seem to be her enemies. She is full of delusions about her parents intentionally leaving her clues, or "gifts," as guidance. Her mind is facilitating this delusion by giving her interpretable sensations. For example, she has a feeling of power in her hands and arms, a certainty about her father's intentions in leaving her his drawings, and the sense her mother's gift is "something out of place." Like a child she draws connections between things that are not connected—assigning meaning to things that are not meant to convey meaning. This echoes the idea behind Random Samples. The film is simply video footage of random things placed together, with a vague sense that meaning, or art, will emerge. In both cases proximity may be easily mistaken for true connection. The nature of the mind is to connect and make meaning out of symbols (language) and events (cause end effect) that are next to each other.

Yet the items the narrator chooses to fixate on carry meaning for the reader because they give insight into her thought process. There's a clear connection between the narrator's experience and the drawing. She is facing pain related to her parents' deaths and at the same time facing pain from her abortion experience. She has to integrate her identity as a child with her feelings about motherhood. In addition, the drawing shows her as a baby, still in the womb but sitting up and looking out. This suggests the narrator feels she is ready to be "born"; that is, become an individual who has agency. The God figure's tail and horns are viewed from an evolutionary standpoint rather than a religious one ("if the Devil was allowed a tail and horns, God needed them also, they were advantages"). This adds to the narrator's growing sense of being more at home in the animal world than the human one.

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