Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 2 Chapter 9 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 2, Chapter 9 | Summary



The narrator has a growing sense of uneasiness about her own past and about staying on the island. She feels her father's presence and fears he may be in danger, and she thinks her friends should not go off alone.

She takes crumbs out to feed the birds. Joe follows; he looks like he wants to talk. But they are interrupted by David, who wants to chop wood. David and Joe go off with an axe and a hatchet to look for firewood. The narrator decides this is safe since they have weapons. She and Anna go to the garden and pull weeds. She remembers her parents digging the garden and her mother scaring off a bear that had raided their food stores.

When Joe and David return with a log, they want to capture some shots of it for Random Samples. Later, after everyone is in bed, the narrator hears Anna and David having sex.


This chapter begins with an observation that the neck of the body is "a lie" because it gives the impression that the head is separate from the body. Because the neck makes the head and body seem separate, it is possible for people to "look down at their bodies and move them around as if they were robots or puppets." This suggests the narrator feels as if she is doing this very thing—operating her body as if it is a robot. There's a price to having your body severed from your head, however: "both of them will die." She says she holds "the clues and solutions and the power" for her next steps, however, suggesting she is on the cusp of an emotional or spiritual breakthrough.

Motifs of language (or lack of) and severed body parts help to develop her feelings of alienation and thus the theme of separation versus wholeness. Combined with the missing memories of the previous chapter, the need for wholeness—integration of past and present, head and body—has become much more urgent. The narrator knows continued separation of these parts leads to death.

Another exchange of interest is the conversation between Anna and the narrator about being on birth control pills. Both women have given up taking them because of serious side effects. This conversation develops the theme of power: it addresses a societal power imbalance between men and women. Birth control pills allow people to have sex without risking a pregnancy, but they carry health risks for the women. Thus the pills offer greater sexual freedom, but women assume risks while the men get nothing but benefits. Furthermore, because the system favors men, efforts to make birth control pills less risky for women are lacking. Anna complains, "You think they'd be able to come up with something that'd work without killing you." The narrator thinks: "Love without fear, sex without risk, that's what they wanted to be true."

This conversation also leads to some disturbing imagery, as the narrator recalls her birth experience. They "tie your hands down," she recalls. "They take the baby out. ... After that they fill your veins up with red plastic." In this nightmarish birth scenario, the mother, who should have the power, is stripped of any power. Afterward the woman's blood is replaced with plastic. Plastic is artificial and does not have life or emotion, in contrast with blood, which is associated with passion.

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