The Narrator’s Abortion Started the Process of her Mental Transformation (Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing)

Topics: Pregnancy, Margaret Atwood, Fetus Pages: 5 (2005 words) Published: October 19, 2013
The Narrator’s Abortion Started the Process of her Mental Transformation

Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing is a novel about a woman who seeks redemption because of having her baby aborted. Her name is never revealed what denotes a serious problem in her identity. She has lost all the human characteristics such as the ability to feel (Atwood 22), love (Atwood 36), dream (Atwood 37) or weep (Atwood 166). She has to go through both physical but mainly mental transformation to realize and find her real self; she has to move from denial to self-knowledge. In this essay I am going to focus on the most important details connected to the abortion which changes her life, and prove that the abortion started the process of her mental transformation. First and most importantly, there is the word abortion which accompanies the reader throughout the whole book. The narrator’s lover describes the abortion as something ‘legal, simple’: "He said I should do it, he made me do it; he talked about it as though it was legal, simple, like getting a wart removed" (Atwood 79) to persuade her that there is nothing wrong with it. The narrator, hurt by the abortion, seeks comfort in persuading herself that she did not experience the abortion but the divorce, she simply substitutes the word abortion by the word divorce. It might be because ‘to divorce somebody’ means "to separate a person, an idea, a subject, etc. from sth; to keep two things separate" (Oxford Dictionary 444). The same meaning has the verb ‘to abort something’; because when a foetus is aborted it is also separate – from its mother. She needed a rational connection between these two words to be able to replace them. Later on the narrator even confesses that: "He [the lover] didn’t want our relationship to influence anything; it was to be kept separate from life" (Atwood 174). The second part of the sentence might not speak about their relationship anymore, but about the abortion while using the word ‘separate’. It was the child who was to be kept separate from life, not just their relationship. That means that both words - abortion and divorce - mean to ‘disjoin something’ – the foetus from the mother’s body or two lovers, and that is the way how she deceives herself. Another hint in the text is that she speaks about the abortion and the divorce in the same way: "A divorce is like an amputation, you survive but there’s less of you" (Atwood 49). The way she remembers the abortion is: "I was emptied, amputated" (Atwood 169). That is the point where a denial comes – in psychology it is "a refusal to accept that something unpleasant or painful is true" (Oxford Dictionary 405). The narrator skews what happened to protect herself from grief. It is certainly easier for her to think that she is divorced, because divorce does not mean killing an innocent creature. Killing is regarded as something sinful. Even if it is easier for her to live through what happened when she substitutes it with a divorce, her parents still despise her even if she is ‘only divorced’. "They never forgave me, they didn’t understand the divorce [...] What upset them was the way I did it, so suddenly, and then running off and leaving my husband and child [...] Leaving my child, that was the unpardonable sin; it was no use trying to explain that it wasn’t really mine" (Atwood 33-34). The narrator herself describes two techniques how to cope with the pain. "I bite down hard into the cone and I can’t feel anything for a minute but the knife-hard pain up the side of my face. Anaesthesia, that’s one technique: if it hurts invent a different pain" (Atwood 13). Firstly, the word anaesthesia comes from Latin, Greek and it means ‘without sensation’. That is an important point; because when one has an abortion she is under the anaesthetic – to not feel anything. The truth is even when one does not feel anything it ‘invents a different pain’ – there is not physical pain, but the emotional pain is unbearable. That is the point in...
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