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Course Hero. "Surfacing Study Guide." January 8, 2018. Accessed December 17, 2018.


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Surfacing | Quotes


She's my best friend, my best woman friend; I've known her two months.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

Though Anna is the narrator's best female friend, the narrator has known her only a short time. She has a similarly short history with the others who travel north with her to her childhood home. This idea of being with friends who are actually strangers sets the tone of the novel and adds to the sense that the narrator is alone.


Nothing is the same, I don't know the way any more.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

Many small details have changed in the small town since the narrator was last there, years ago. This gives the narrator a sense of disconnection with her past. The journey to the narrator's destination thus becomes a metaphor for the journey into her past and its unresolved issues.


She must have concealed the pain for weeks ... that would be her kind of lie.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 2

The narrator remembers her secretive mother, who died of brain cancer after a long illness. That her mother hid the pain of this illness, perhaps until it was too late, is a warning to the narrator about the consequences of keeping secrets or living a lie.


A divorce is like an amputation, you survive but there's less of you.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 5

The narrator "remembers" the pain of divorce, likening it to an amputation. This image of severed body parts recurs throughout the novel as one of its most prominent motifs. Ultimately the reader discovers the narrator's sense of losing part of herself is unrelated to a divorce, which is a false memory she has made to cover up a different pain.


I run quickly over ... my life ... it's all there till the time I left.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 8

The narrator comes to realize parts of her memory are warped or missing. However, when she reviews her memory from the beginning to the present, she sees the missing or distorted memories are in the somewhat recent past.


The trouble is all in the knob at the top of our bodies.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 9

The narrator places a great deal of emphasis on the idea that the neck creates an artificial separation between the head and the body—between logic and sensation, rational and animal. The neck makes the head seem like a "knob" rather than an extension of the body. Images of severed body parts are an important motif in the novel. One way they are used is to illustrate the narrator's sense that her emotions are closed off from her mind. Connecting the parts of the body—the head and heart—becomes part of the narrator's emotional journey.


I was in most of the pictures ... not me but the missing part of me.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 12

As the narrator looks through old scrapbooks and photo albums, she sees photos of herself as a child. While she feels separate from her emotions, she also feels separate from her childhood self. In addition to regaining the ability to feel, the narrator's emotional journey must bring wholeness to this part of her as well. Childhood and adulthood have to be part of one narrative, unbroken.


In a way it was a relief, to be exempt from feeling.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 13

The narrator's lack of feeling is most troubling to her as it relates to her boyfriend, Joe. Joe is in love with the narrator, and she cannot reciprocate. This deficit is a concern, but she recognizes there is a sort of appeal to not having emotional attachments. This "relief" presents a strong temptation to emulate her parents, who withdrew from most societal attachments.


He likes to make me cry because he can't do it himself.

Anna, Part 2, Chapter 14

The relationship between Anna and David provides a look into what kinds of bonds tie people together in a marriage, and the picture isn't very pretty. David looks for ways to pick on Anna and humiliate her, and she gets back at him by sleeping with other men. David has his own affairs, which he uses to further humiliate Anna. The narrator, who initially thinks Anna and David's marriage is healthy and stable, sees over time it is based on mutual disdain and a continual struggle to maintain the upper hand.


It doesn't matter what country they're from ... they're still Americans ... what we are turning into.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 15

The narrator has a preoccupation with Americans, whom she dislikes and distrusts. Americans are larger than life; they are a force of destruction and senseless violence. So when a heron is killed for no logical reason, she believes the men who did it are Americans. Later when she finds out they are Canadians, this adds to her paranoia that American culture is like a disease that infects everything it touches. Canadians acting like Americans is proof of the spread of this disease.


The barometer couple ... my ideal; except they were glued there ... without escape.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 16

The barometer couple, rather than symbolizing a sweet, happy marriage, comes to symbolize relationships that stay together for any reason. Love might be a reason, but so might hate and competitiveness. The narrator's parents stayed together, but their relationship was clearly complicated. The narrator has to let go of her childhood ideals of love and marriage and face these emotional realities.


I was emptied, amputated ... they had planted death in me like a seed.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 17

After a dive into the lake to find a rock painting, the narrator remembers a suppressed memory of having an abortion. She realizes her earlier memories of marriage, birth, and divorce were all imagined, but the feelings in those memories were often real. She previously described divorce as an amputation; now she realizes a part of her body was actually removed.


Provisions, they will provide, they have always favored survival.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 24

One thread of continuity throughout the novel is the narrator's competence when it comes to wilderness survival. She can fish, forage, and grow her own food. She read survival manuals while other adolescents were reading magazines. When she spirals into a delusional state after realizing the truth about her memories, she imagines her parents guiding her to find what is needed to continue living. Survival is the legacy her parents left her.


To prefer life, I owe them that.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 26

Since survival, not necessarily emotional warmth, was what the narrator gained from her parents, she decides she owes them her continued effort to exist.


This above all, to refuse to be a victim.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 27

In many ways the novel is a coming-of-age story, and the ending shows what adulthood means to the narrator: taking responsibility for your own power. Her passivity and victimhood are childish ways to interact with the world. But embracing her own ability to make change in the world means she has to accept the possibility her actions can be destructive or even harmful. As she concludes this, she opens up to the possibility of both positive and negative consequences in the future.

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