2016 Undergraduate Awards

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Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing studies the effects of the delineation of identity at a time in Canadian history where the question of Canadian national identity was evolving, becoming a marker that was more clearly defined and more consciously sought out by Canadian artists and citizens. Atwood’s novel can be considered in light of these historical developments, but Surfacing’s interest in the establishment of borders of exclusion and inclusion is not an affirmation of the positive effects such identifiers can bring. Instead of the perhaps typical celebration of the collective identity that such group identifiers as nationality can bring, this novel reveals that the borders such distinctions establish are ultimately damaging. As a Canadian and a woman in particular, the narrator’s social groupings demand her victimhood, a concept that this paper explores in relation to Atwood’s major work of Canadian literary criticism, Survival. The narrator’s initial state of near-total psychological constriction is indicative of the dangers of social borders, and it is only in escaping the identifiers that define her – in terms of national, gender, and epistemological constructs – that she comes to a kind of wholeness. This escape takes the form of a turn towards the natural world as a truly borderless space where it is possible to heal a fragmented self. In light of the emphasis placed on the question of borders, this paper will consider the theories of Walter Mignolo and Julia Kristeva as a means to explore how identity is constructed around borders, both psychological and national, and how such constructions can be subverted.


Image: "ia0003.JPG" by Mark Goebel. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.