Themes and Meanings
Surfacing is a postmodern novel in that its ideological strategy is to rethink traditional views and question conventions. Its themes are numerous, virtually unlimited, one of the reasons it is the most widely written about of all Atwood’s many works. Foremost is the portrayal of male/female relationships and the examination of power relationships of all kinds. It is also a psychological quest. Examining her life under extreme circumstances, the narrator experiences herself as part of a larger wholeness. The dead heron is thus more than itself; it is Christ crucified, the death of the cosmic harmony, humanity destroying the very nature of which it is a part. The feminist themes merge with the autonomy of the individual and the sacredness of life.
All the themes are interrelated. The narrator reclaims integrity as she acknowledges her complicity in the abortion rather than blaming everything on “him” or “they.” The new life that is possibly growing in her will be given a chance to be more fully human than the violent actions of the historical past and present generations. The narrator refuses to relinquish her wilderness landscape to resort developers; it must be preserved for itself and its ecological system. Individuals must accept others regardless of differences and borders and languages that divide them. Artists must be allowed to and be willing to speak their truth and not be perverted into “random samples” of the bizarre and sensational. Rather than Canadians blaming Americans or children blaming parents, each person must accept responsibility, be compassionate, and work to find a third possibility beyond the dichotomous poles of “killer” or “victim.” Such moral engagement demands actions that emerge from an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life.