In search of her missing Father, Atwood’s nameless narrator is confronted with an emergence of deeply hidden truths about herself, forcing her to descend below the surface of her psyche; therefore, shedding light on the events in her life that caused her to submerge the actual truth into an alternate reality. Upon her arrival on the small island where the narrator was raised, she is immediately bombarded with images that will not allow her to ignore her fragmented account of the past. The problems involving her husband, marriage, and child arise the instant she spots relics of her forgotten youth. These barricades coupled with the matters of the unhealthy relationships she is currently living beneath, make uncovering her true self increasingly instinctive even animalistic and incredibly individual. By the end of the novel we find ourselves with her, coming to grips with her actual truths, realities that have been brought up from an anchored state, immersed, drowned even, in a creepy sub surface of her psyche.
As we the reader float up to the bank of the narrators island home, somewhere in a desolate ex logging community in northern Quebec, we are informed of our narrators past, her memories some that occurred earlier in her life, others before the narrator was born. She tells us the story of her brothers drowning explaining to us how she was able to see the event from within her mother’s womb. She also associates the “large cage or small playground” (Atwood 34) with her own child and husband, but not necessarily in a coherent manner. Often when associating her hidden shattered history, pieces of her comprehensible past are used to magnify and, in the beginning of the novel, alter her memory to give the reader a segment of a divided truth.
It was before I was born but I can remember it clearly as if I saw it, and perhaps I did see it: I believe that an unborn baby has its eyes open and can look out through the walls of the mother’s stomach, like a frog in a jar. (Atwood 32)
Atwood clearly uses foreshadowing here, yet makes it very difficult for the reader to spot a logical connection to the protagonists cognitive deficiencies, even though her problems are all clearly laid out in front of us in a metaphoric manner.
Coherence is hard to find throughout the beginning of the narrators search for her father, the reader is confronted with fragments of a whole, the protagonist herself seems to have no rational thought process as she ensues her search for her lost father. Karen F Stein informs us about the main characters way of communicating in “Home Ground, Foreign Territory”(the title of Steins third chapter and a line from the novel ) “ The stylistic discontinuities reflect her emotional fragmentation and displacement”(Stein 53) Atwood uses language to give the reader a sense of the disillusionment created by words (literally) used by the protagonist. Stein say’s “She strings together independent clauses with almost no coordinating or subordinating linkage.” (Stein 53) Atwood uses all these literary devices to confuse the reader, and to dismantle the main character herself, to nothing not even lies, allowing the protagonist to pursue the search for her father as well as giving way for her own individual internal struggles to surface as a healthy individual.
Toward the climax of the novel we are exposed to enough of the facts to understand that the nameless narrator is in search of more then just her missing father, but also her shattered vision of her broken self. In chapter seventeen we are introduced to the narrators phantasm of her dead past, possibly a vision of her lost father, and certainly a picture of her unborn aborted child. “It was blurred but it had eyes, they were open, it was something I knew about, a dead thing, it was dead.”(Atwood 142) Then the protagonist goes further into the circumstances surrounding her abortion, first incoherently then establishing a more real connection for herself and the reader.
I knew when it was, it was in a bottle curled up, staring out at me like a cat pickled… That was wrong, I never saw it. They scraped it into a bucket and threw it wherever they throw them”(Atwood 143)
Nameless or not, our protagonist begins to make her way toward exposing her hidden self after seeing past her distorted notions that she had created to live with her own decisions, like the decision to destroy the life of her child.
After accepting a more appropriate reality the narrator is presented with an almost alternate reality, no one around her is aware of her new realizations of her most recent rationalizations that bring her closer to her actual state of being. Banko Gorjup says in his essay “Paradox of Discourse”
Atwood manipulates her protagonist out of her state of consciousness in which she must confront a more prosaic dilemma: either “the hospital or the zoo.” Not surprisingly, she opts for the “hospital” (Gorjup 21)
But just because she’s able to put herself in the nut house instead of the hen house doesn’t mean she’s out of the dark, the narrator is still in the process of ascension toward her genuine existence. While packing the canoe the protagonist continues a disturbing cognitive process, ones that evoke a progression toward the advancement of her psychosis. At this point her thoughts are centered on her travel companions “It was all right as long as they stuck to dead things, the dead can defend themselves, to be half dead is worse” (Atwood 166). She goes on to destroy David’s film by exposing it to the elements. These unconventional deeds are, simply stated, ways the narrator can set herself apart from the oppressors, the “Americans” (Atwood 169). Within the unorthodox reality, the one that is closer to resembling a factual conception of the narrators real status in life, she begins to make decisions that push aside the obstacles that are preventing her from re surfacing as a healthy individual, these decisions likewise boost her towards the surface, towards a rationality.
Upon the retrieval of her still fragmented and shattered true self, Atwood’s nameless protagonist empowers herself enough to acknowledge that she is going to need to change. “This above all, to refuse to be a victim. “Unless I can do that I can do nothing.” (Atwood 191). After her journey through her mind using an enigmatic cognitive process, the main character reaches a point of acknowledgment that can be reflected as a position that is above the demented unreality that she was forcing herself to live under. Whether or not that narrator is in the right mindset to be a productive member of society is still questionable, but her resurrection as a character that’s not going to be victimized is seen as a triumph. Many of the conflicts she is fighting within herself throughout the beginning of the novel have been resolved. Her father is found along with her honest yet fragmented sense of self. The protagonist is aware of her dispositions, and the difficulties that lay ahead, but she is looking forward toward a real future, one based on the truth about her self.
Atwood, Margaret. Surfacing. 1972. Toronto: McClelland, 1994. Print.
Gorjup, Branko. “Paradox of Discourse.” Margraret Atwood Essays on Her Works. Ed.
Branko Gorjup.[Toronoto]: Guernica, 2008. 42-54. Print.
Stein, Karen F. Margaret Atwood revisited. 1999. New York: Twayne, 1999. Print.