International Journal of English Research

International Journal of English Research


International Journal of English Research
International Journal of English Research
Vol. 2, Issue 4 (2016)

Self-realization through Nature: An alternative narration in Margaret Atwood’s surfacing


Dr. Sonika Sethi

Ever since the origin of mankind, men have been assigned the role of hunter/ gatherer/ farmer/ bread winner of the society, thereby relegating women either into the confines of domesticity or to the areas of lesser importance. Growing consumerism and materialism of the 20th and 21st century has resulted in a similar fate for nature. As nature was mostly seen as the embodiment of all the characteristics that women possess, there are frequent references to this in literature. Theorists like Chellis Glendinning believe that our separation from nature goes back some 20,000 years ago to the time when humans shifted from being a gatherer/hunter culture to domesticating plants and animals. The ideological shift that occurred during the 18th Century European Enlightenment is discussed by Carolyn Merchant, who describes how the organic cosmology that had helped protect nature for centuries was overturned by the scientific and cultural revolutions of the Enlightenment. She focuses on the emergence, over last two hundred years, of a scientific, technological and capitalist ideology obsessed with 'progress'. Judith Plant believes that pre-industrial Western society used organic metaphors to explain self, society and nature. These metaphors served as 'cultural constraints' because the earth was understood as alive. The scientific revolution of the Enlightenment replaced these organic metaphors with mechanical ones. The Universe was no longer understood as a living organism, but as a machine, and nature became perceived purely as a resource for human use. Women, children, low-income individuals, people of colour, and residents of the Global South are particularly vulnerable populations whose rights to a healthy and sustainable future must be vigilantly respected and safeguarded. Canadian writer Margret Atwood’s one of the finest novels, Surfacing, highlights the problem from both ecological and feminist approach. Surfacing is the story of the unnamed narrator who returns to Quebec after years of absence to search for her missing father. The text reveals an intersection of many questions related to deep ecology and feminism. Critics have observed the environmental dimension of Atwood's work in general and Surfacing in particular. While Surfacing resists simple conclusions about gender and nature, it repeatedly shows that patriarchy exploits the earth and the female body in similar ways. Registering multiple positions simultaneously, Surfacing suggests that women have a special bond with the earth, posits that there are limits on this bond, and offers that men, too, can have symmetry with nature. Throughout Surfacing, moments of gender exploitation are layered with images of the domination of nature. The text offers continual reminders of the degradation of nature, especially through images of destroyed, slashed or marked trees. Continually, the commodification and exploitation of the land is overlaid with that of the female body and vice-versa.

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How to cite this article:
Dr. Sonika Sethi. Self-realization through Nature: An alternative narration in Margaret Atwood’s surfacing. International Journal of English Research. 2016; 2(4): 11-14.