Literature Study GuidesSurfacingPart 3 Chapter 27 Summary

Surfacing | Study Guide

Margaret Atwood

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Surfacing | Part 3, Chapter 27 | Summary



The narrator resolves to "refuse to be a victim" and to "give up the old belief" that she is "powerless." She gets dressed and goes to the garden. She sees Paul and Joe arrive by boat and watches as Joe steps out of the boat and calls out to her.

She realizes if she goes with him, they will need to talk—to use the "intercession of words" to live with one another. She decides she can trust him, but still she waits, surrounded by the undemanding trees, as he calls again.


The narrator has experienced an internal breakthrough. The separate parts of herself—child, woman, daughter, potential mother, lover, animal, human—have begun to become integrated into one self: a natural woman. She envisions this integration as the process of a time traveler stepping back into the present: "I reenter my own time." Now she needs to integrate into human society. The novel does not show this next step; it shows her contemplating it and recognizing its necessity: "Withdrawing is no longer possible and the alternative is death."

The novel's final chapter also resolves the theme of power. Rather than being a passive bystander to the world's pain and her own pain, she realizes she does have power. She is not a victim, and in fact she had allowed herself to believe she was powerless partly to avoid taking responsibility for the use of power. She no longer believes she can't "ever hurt anyone." Having power means you take responsibility for your own choices and the part you play in destructive human systems.

Finally, in this last chapter the narrator has accepted as normal, and even good, something she once found frightening: change. While the early chapters of the novel are full of her negative reactions to change, here she refers to change as a positive thing. A potential pregnancy is seen as a good thing because the fetus ("shape of a goldfish now in my belly") is "undergoing its watery changes." And Joe is someone she can trust because "he isn't anything, he is only half formed." Ultimately the narrator has accepted the natural stages of life and death that are part of being human.

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