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The “defiant but insane look of a species once dominant” – The Problems of Emancipation in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2014 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Margaret Atwood’s novel Surfacing has received considerable critical attention on the issue of “a positive female identity” in a patriarchal society. However, given Atwood’s own stress on the fact that the novel is about the ways both genders work in relation to each other, this criticism has lacked in scrutiny of the novel’s male characters. With a relational approach to the female and male characters, this thesis argues that while creating a positive identity for its female protagonist, the novel effectively creates a rather negative one for its male characters. In order to examine certain sets of relations and the qualities which represent the most honored way of being a man in the novel, I apply the concept of “hegemonic masculinity,” which can be understood as the pattern of practices that explain male domination over women. It is indeed this hegemonic masculinity that the Surfacer rejects in her quest for emancipation. By looking at the hegemonic masculinity in Surfacing, I argue that the novel depicts very typically patriarchal characters in Joe and David and that the society is typically patriarchal.

The thesis is divided into three main sections, each examining the most important sets of relations concerning Atwood’s female emancipation. First, I analyze hegemonic structures in the world of the protagonist, including the issues of power, emancipation, and complicity. Then I look into the sexual division of labor to show that the characters assume their default roles without much reflection. Finally, I scrutinize the characters’ relation to the Symbolic and how it affects their sense of identity. In each section, the analyses show that the male characters are reduced to tropes who only serve one function: to be stereotypically oppressive, patriarchal figures in order to facilitate the protagonist’s positive change and empowerment. I argue that Atwood’s failure to imagine male emancipation somewhat taints the development of female identity because the female emancipation becomes arrested.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. , 46 p.
Keyword [en]
Surfacing, Margaret Atwood, Gender, Hegemonic Masculinity, Emphasized Femininity, Complicity, Male Dominance, Identity, Power, Patriarchy, Feminism, Sexual Division of Labor, The Symbolic, Language
National Category
General Literature Studies Specific Literatures
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-104898OAI: diva2:727379
Available from: 2014-09-29 Created: 2014-06-20 Last updated: 2014-09-29Bibliographically approved

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