British Journal of Canadian Studies

GUILT AND INNOCENCE IN THE COMMUNITY AND THE SELF: AN EXAMINATION OF MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY IN MARGARET ATWOOD'S SURFACING

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2004), 17, (1), 105–116.

Abstract

This article examines the theme of guilt and innocence in Margaret Atwood's 1972 novel, Surfacing, and pays particular attention to how these themes interact in the text with feminism, nationalism and environmentalism. I suggest that the ideas that Atwood is exploring in the novel – ideas about an individual's social responsibility and about a society's responsibility towards an individual – are questions that later become central to the multiculturalism debate in Canada. The article attempts to demonstrate that Atwood is considering some of the same concerns that are discussed in Charles Taylor's 1994 essay, 'The Politics of Difference', and that both authors are articulating important themes that continue to have relevance in Canada today. I argue that Atwood's use of the traditional quest motif initially seems to imply a liberal belief in autonomous authenticity, but that Atwood disrupts the normative quest pattern by concluding, like Taylor, that authenticity can only be achieved in dialogue with others. Finally, I conclude that both Taylor and Atwood are seeking an alternative 'third way' between traditional liberal and communitarian models of society.

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Tolan, Fiona