Essay on Atonement by Ian McEwan

Essay on Atonement by Ian McEwan

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"Atonement" by Ian McEwan


Atonement comes from an "at onement", the idea being that penance and
suffering allows us to be "at one" with God or ourselves. The central
theme of atonement is that of seeking forgiveness. This is manifested
through the characters and their actions. In the book "Atonement" by
Ian McEwan, the act carried out by Briony sets of a chain of events,
for which either atonement is sought or society seeks atonement from.

Briony's character is described as being compulsively orderly,

"She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world
just so."

Briony's craving to manipulate and control, and also her perception of
how Robbie spoilt her play, leads her to committing her crime. Her
overactive imagination causes her to misinterpret a scene between
Robbie and Cecelia, and then later catches them in the library, where
she incorrectly concludes that Robbie is attacking Cecelia. Later,
when she discovers Lola has been raped, she immediately says,

"It was Robbie, wasn't it?"

She completes her sin by saying,

"Listen to me. I couldn't mistake him. I've known him all my life. I
saw him."

In this first half of the book, Briony forces Robbie to atone, for
upsetting the balance in her controlled, systematic world, by his
taboo relationship with Cecelia. Briony believes that Robbie deserves
his fate. Indeed, she is furious when she thinks Robbie might be
believed over her,

"Who would believe her now, with Robbie posing as the kindly rescuer
of lost children?"

Briony is elated when she sees Robbie being escorted away by the
police and imagines Robbie's shame being heightened by a "biter
indictment" from Cecelia. In reality, the reader discovers later that
Cecelia is telling Robbie that she doesn't b...


... middle of paper ...


...giveness: they
never forgave Briony. This means that Briony's redemption is never
complete. Briony imagines the whole occurrence to be something she has
written up and tells herself,

"No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was
always an impossible task"

Briony never attains absolute atonement, due to the extent of her
crime and because she cannot be forgiven for it. She was never forced
to pay any penance for it, in the same manner that Robbie and Cecelia
were, nor did she offer any atonement for a desire to set things
right, only to soothe her conscience. It can be therefore concluded
that perhaps betrayal is something that cannot be atoned for. McEwan
forces the criminal to face the life sentence for the crime she has
committed. If McEwan is to believe, atonement is something that can
rarely be fully achieved as everything has its price.

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