Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 3 Chapter 26 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 3, Chapter 26 | Summary



The narrator makes a new lair—more hidden—to sleep in. As she sleeps, she dreams of her parents paddling a canoe. When she wakes up, she knows "they have gone finally." "The rules are over" and she can go anywhere. She feels certain her parents had been there and they spoke to her "in the other language."

She goes into the cabin and eats a few beans from a tin. She thinks about her "fake husband" more clearly than before, realizing he was just a "normal man." She considers what to do next—stay? Go back to the city? Then she thinks about her parents and what forces shaped them—why her father chose to live isolated from the world, what private pain her mother must have been dealing with. She goes to the mirror, turns it outward again, and looks at herself: "a creature neither animal nor human, furless." She decides she is "a natural woman ... a new kind of centerfold."


The narrator begins to surface in this chapter—to return to sanity after her submersion in delusion. This takes several forms.

She recognizes the need to live, not just for herself but for the love of her parents: "To prefer life, I owe them that." She decides having "someone to speak to and words that can be understood: their definition of sanity" is not the worst fate. She puts all of the difficult events of her life in proportion. Her lover wasn't evil, he was just "a normal man, middle-aged, second-rate, selfish and kind in the average proportions." Her father was "protecting both us and himself, in the midst of war and in a poor country."

She confronts her power—not the delusional power she felt before but her real power as a human being. She sees the destruction and thinks, "Junk on the floor, things broken, did I do that?" Yes, she did. People can destroy as well as build.

She refuses to be artificial. She is "only a natural woman" with a "face dirt-caked and streaked, skin grimed and scabby, hair like a frayed bathmat," not a "tanned body on a beach with washed hair waving like scarves."

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