James Wodd's How Fiction Works and Ian McEwan's Atonement

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James Wood in his book, How Fiction Works, analyzes various essential elements of fiction. Most fascinating of which, is his critique of “Character” and “Sympathy and Complexity”. These two chapters are perfectly exemplified in Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. The novel demonstrates what Wood calls Sympathetic Identification. When a reader is able to create an emotional connection to particular characters. Author Ian McEwan uses free indirect style to evoke sympathetic identification with characters.
In Atonement the character Briony Tallis embodies the danger that comes with the inability to place oneself in another’s circumstances and emotions. She is unable to sympathetically connect to others. The character of Briony would rather a tidy fiction then an unorganized reality. That as a result leads to guilt and regret. Wood, in his analysis demonstrates how McEwan through Briony demonstrates the separation of characters in order to show a reader how to inhabit the mind of characters. Upon reading the novel there is a temptation to condemn Briony for her childish wrong doings. Wood analysis this in saying, “that this moving out of ourselves into realms beyond our daily experience might be a moral and sympathetic education of its own kind…”(Wood, 102). In moving into the perspective of a character the readers learn something about themselves.
An author does not ask its reader to understand characters that are unapproved of until the author has unequivocally and firmly condemned them themselves. A reader might exhibit disgust or hate for a character and simultaneously see life through their eyes. A reader simultaneously moves from dislike to a moral and sympathetic education of the character in question’s motives. Wood defines this ...

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...t yet”(McEwan, 372). Toward the end she decides to just write it down exactly as it was no rhymes, embellishments or adjectives for words and memory are the point and tools of writers.
In the end Briony’s first novel was also her last, an autobiographical book with only the absolute truth. Atonement shows the dangers of failing to place oneself in another’s shoes. For it is seemingly better to have a tidy fiction than an unorganized reality. McEwan’s separation of characters shows the reader how to inhabit the minds of other characters. At all points in the novel a reader sympathetically identifies with the characters. As readers we feel and learn about Briony’s development into a woman that can have that multiple perceptions.

Works Cited

McEwan, Ian. Atonement. London: Vintage Books, 2007. Print.
Wood, James. How fiction works. New York: Picador, 2008. Print.
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