Betrayal in McEwan's Atonement

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In McEwan’s Atonement ventures into the lives of the Tallis sisters and the complexities that naivety and selfishness can inflict. Briony Tallis’ perjury against Robbie Turner, in her cousin Lola’s criminal rape case, disrupts the Tallis family dynamic and the budding romance between Cecelia Tallis and Robbie. Briony’s maturation and realization of her wrongdoing implores her to become a nurse during WWII. In Atonement, McEwan depicts a family in turmoil over the lies of young Briony during World War II. The imagery and symbolism portray Briony’s characterization through her attempts to serve penance for her betrayal with symbolism and imagery. Briony’s limited point of view effects the tone of the novel through an unreliable eyewitness account of what she witnessed and the recognition of her mistakes.

Atonement’s symbolism of innocence shows Briony’s youthful naïveté and her blameless intentions. The symbolism of lost innocence not only affects Briony, but Cecilia and Robbie as well. Robbie and Cecilia venture into the world of adult sexuality together, but are interrupted by Briony’s curiosity. Witness to the debauchery at hand, Briony skews her testimony to the police in regards to her encounter of Lola and her rapist at the temple, “Events she herself witnessed foretold her cousins calamity. If only she, Briony, had been less innocent, less stupid. Now she saw, the affair was too consistent, too symmetrical to be anything other than what she said it was. She blamed herself for her childish assumption that Robbie would limit his attentions to Cecilia. What was she thinking of? He was a maniac after all.” (158) Briony thought of the obscene note written to Cecelia as a warning to what Robbie was capable of, although the note w...

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