It is first appropriate to establish the fact that these black and white gender roles do in fact exist, so Briony’s transitional period may be better understood. For women, the role is clear. They are meant to be the homemakers, peacekeepers, and are meant to keep both their appearance and behavior in check. In simple terms, they are meant to constrict themselves to only those things falling under the realm of femininity. Throughout the novel, varying degrees of characters, in concern to how well they follow this standard can be identified; the first being Emily Tallis. Within only a few pages of the portion of the novel concerning Emily, readers come to understand she “mourned the passing of an age of eloquence” (65). With this lament and other similar language, readers are quickly made aware she sees the world as losing its fluidity an...
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...correct assumptions and decisions that ultimately shape the novel as a whole. But it is also interesting to note what McEwan seems to be saying about these gender exceptions. It is not until Briony steps away from them that she is able to come to some sort of atonement. With her initial attempt at nursing, an acceptable profession for a woman, she is not able to reach the full atonement she seeks. It is only when she steps outside of the feminine role and shares her story through her writing, instead of restraining and hiding her past, does she get hints of atonement in the close of the novel. Perhaps McEwan is suggesting with this novel that the masculinity and femininity expectations are the underlying cause of the distress the novel follows, and to break the cycle that expectations perpetuate, we must step outside these gender roles of masculinity and femininity.
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