In Margaret Atwood's novel Surfacing, there is a recurring victor/victim theme between the narrator and her boyfriend Joe. On a quest to find her own self, one of the struggles the narrator faces is her genuine love for Joe. Rather than accepting Joe as a potential husband, I think she treats him like a pet or animal companion.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this novel are the secrets and lies the narrator describes about her past and present life. In the beginning, we learn that Joe is her current "stand-in"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (23) and she has a child from a previous marriage. Later, we learn that her previous marriage was really an affair as she saw "snapshots of his wife and children, his reasons, his stuffed and mounted family, they had names"ÃÂ¦."Ã¯Â¿Â½ (149). She also lies about having a child as she "never identified it as mine"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (34) and has no intentions of telling Joe.
From these examples, we can identify the narrator as the victor and Joe as the victim in this relationship.
Throughout the novel, the narrator links to Joe to animals as everything she values about him "seems to be physical"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (57). Even though she describes Joe as "a species once dominant, now threatened with extinction"Ã¯Â¿Â½, she also describes Joe as a "buffalo on the U.S. nickel, shaggy and blunt-snouted, with small clenched eyes"ÃÂ¦."Ã¯Â¿Â½ (8). This might suggest that Joe is a nice, straightforward guy looking for stability in his life, while having the looks of a buffalo. Other links the narrator ties with Joe is that she sees him as her pet dog. Joe is described to have a "back hairier than most men's, a warm texture, it's like teddy-bear fur"ÃÂ¦"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (41), which suggest that he is like a stuffed toy animal. The characteristics of a pet dog is also described as: "Joe stayed on the wall bench, arms wrapped around his knees in lawn-dwarf position, watching me. Every time I glanced up his eyes would be there, blue as ball point pens or Superman"ÃÂ¦as though he was tracing me"ÃÂ¦I re-read two of the folk tales, about the king who learned to speak with animals"ÃÂ¦."Ã¯Â¿Â½ (84) From the above passage, we can picture Joe as an obedient dog sitting and starring at his master, the narrator, waiting for a response from her. Joe again is also linked to a pet dog as "Joe was in the sandbox"ÃÂ¦scraping together a large mound of sand"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (89). Here we get a picture of playful dogs playing, kicking and digging in sand or soil. Other pet dog tie-ins include "Joe was lying by himself on the dock, face-down"ÃÂ¦."Ã¯Â¿Â½ (100), and the idea of a persistent and relentless dog as he ""ÃÂ¦would twist your arm and say Give in? Give in? until you did; then they would let go"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (109-110).
Between the narrator and Joe, the narrator struggles to: ""ÃÂ¦decide whether or not I love him"ÃÂ¦I sum him up, dividing him into categories"ÃÂ¦I'd rather have him around than not; though it would be nice it he meant something more to me"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (42).
Even though she acknowledges that Joe seems to be the man she has been looking for in her life, there is still some doubt about being his wife.
In conclusion, even though the narrator is the victor, we see at the end of the novel that she decides to have Joe's baby even though her views and love for Joe still has not changed; "He still doesn't understand, he thinks he has won"ÃÂ¦."Ã¯Â¿Â½ (163). In the end, we are left wondering whether Joe is still a victim or has he become the victor?