Essay on Urban Alienation in Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden

Essay on Urban Alienation in Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden

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Urban Alienation in Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden

It was not at all clear to me now why we had put her in the trunk in the first place. At the time it had been obvious, to keep the family together. Was that a good reason? It might have been more interesting to be apart. Nor could I think whether what we had done was an ordinary thing to do

In this essay I shall be examining the socio-cultural context of The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (1948 - ). Once placed within context, an examination of the internal worlds of the bereaved children will follow. Attention is given to events from the perspective of Jack, the adolescent narrator and an exploration is made of how the individual interior world of each child fuses into the others and forms a highly alternative and esoteric family culture. A subsequent comparison between the shared psychological network of the children and the outside physical environment will explore the tensions between this dysfunctional family and the wider society from which the children are marginalised. The conclusion will determine how effective the novel is in its portrayal of events within the children's mental world as they endeavour to cope with bereavement in an adult-free milieu.

The novel opens with a sense of guilt and a feeling of unhappy self-containment which introduces the prevailing atmosphere of The Cement Garden. Jack, the fifteen year-old protagonist, with his masturbatory habits, lack of personal hygiene and 'attitude' is arguably fairly typical of a male adolescent. However McEwan distorts this possible normality by focusing on elements of physical bodily functions and darker mental processes which lends the children and the universe they inhabit the feeling of ordinary actions an...


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...er close scrutiny so that they appear to be magnified and distorted even before the death of the father which starts the action and reactions of the plot. McEwan then puts the children in an almost impossible position as they attempt to carry on as usual after the death of both parents. McEwan sets the action in an anonymous derelict urban environment which he describes in elliptical terms so that the minimum effective clues are given to the reader to visualise the flat and cheerless area in which the family survives. This landscape reflects the tenebrous confines of Jack's individual mental world and the family's collective and tormented minds. Through this complex filter the reader feels the sadness of the children's fate and the tragedy of the soulless society in which such events can happen.

Reference

McEwan, Ian. The Cement Garden. London. Pan Books. 1978

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