Surfacing Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)

Margaret Atwood

Critical Context (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Margaret Atwood is a prolific writer, author of several novels, nine volumes of poetry, and a major critical study of Canadian literature. Surfacing is generally considered to be her best work and has been hailed as a contemporary classic in both Canada and the United States. Atwood’s fans praise the novel for the rich complexity of its thematic structure, for its successful blend of psychological realism and mythic symbolism, and for the Iyricism of its prose. A few critics have complained that the symbolism is at times heavy-handed, citing as an example the scene in which the dead heron becomes a Christ figure. Many have argued that her characterizations are thinly drawn and too strongly subordinated to her thematic purposes. In fact, many of Atwood’s novels are intended to be allegories rather than realistic portraits of contemporary life. All chronicle a woman’s struggle to begin her life anew and to strip herself of an identity which threatens to drown her.

The novels which precede and follow Surfacing share this common theme but are far lighter in tone. The Edible Woman (1969) is the story of a woman who tries to mold herself into a cosmopolitan image of the perfect educated wife as demanded by her fiance and her own desire to be “normal.” Lady Oracle (1976) is the story of a woman who fakes her own drowning to escape exposure of the several lives she has been living, all of which are attempts to hide...

(The entire section is 466 words.)