Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 3 Chapter 20 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 3, Chapter 20 | Summary



That night when Joe comes to bed, the narrator initiates sex. But she doesn't want to make love in the bed, so she pulls Joe outside. They have sex on the damp, chilly ground in the moonlight. As they make love the narrator feels forgiven: "I can feel my lost child surfacing within me, forgiving me, rising from the lake." She wants to get pregnant, have the baby without medical intervention like an animal, and raise it without language.


The narrator's sense of herself as an animal, and of humans as animals who have abandoned their natural state, dominates the imagery of this chapter. She rejects the "chemically treated hides" (clothing and bedding) and wants to have sex outside, like an animal. When Joe undresses, she perceives it as taking off "his human skin." To the narrator, human has begun to mean artificial, and animal equates with natural.

Part of the narrator's remedy for her feelings of loss because of the abortion is to get pregnant again, and so having sex with Joe is more about this goal than about the relationship. She is confident she will become pregnant, and she feels as though this absolves her from deciding not to carry the other pregnancy. She even has a sense the "lost child" and the potential new one are two halves that come together: "The two halves clasp, interlocking like fingers." Whether or not she actually becomes pregnant from this coupling is irrelevant. She has found a way to let the potential of one pregnancy become part of the potential of a new one, whether that happens now or in the future.

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