Anna’s primary role in Surfacing is to crystallize the narrator’s opinions about love, sex, and marriage. Anna’s constant chatter helps the narrator to better understand relationships. She asks whether the narrator takes birth control, mentioning the blood clot she developed in her leg as a result of taking the pill. Anna’s frankness about contraception allows the narrator to identify contraception as a male invention that puts females at risk. When the narrator asks Anna about marriage, Anna’s comparison of marriage to skiing blindly down a hill helps solidify the narrator’s fear of marriage. Also, Anna’s admission that David either withholds sex or hurts her during sex helps the narrator to see the way men use sex as a weapon.
The narrator also observes the psychological cruelty that men inflict on women through the way that Anna crumbles in the face of David’s cruel jokes. The degradation of Anna’s marriage confirms the narrator’s suspicions about marriage in general. At first, the narrator seems to envy Anna’s love for her husband, and she marvels at the way Anna keeps her marriage together. However, the narrator eventually comes to understand Anna’s marriage as one balanced by hate rather than love, and David’s cynicism allows her to reject marriage altogether. Anna’s life as a whole becomes a cautionary tale for the narrator. The narrator learns through Anna the pitfalls of an unhappy marriage, empty sex, and fractured love.