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
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She wanted to be
acknowledged and felt that her condemnation of Robbie would achieve
this. She never considers the possibility of role-reversal, when
Robbie would have the power or redemption over her.

Robbie was condemned and sent to prison. He was forced to atone by
society, by being refused certain books and having his letters
censored. He was only permitted his mother to visit after being
diagnosed as "morbidly over-sexed" and "at risk of being inflamed".

Briony only starts to realise her crime as she grows older. In a
letter to Robbie, Cecelia paraphrases a letter from Briony,

"She's beginning to get the full grasp of what she did I think she
wants to recant."

When Briony goes to visit Cecelia, the reader comprehends that Briony
doesn't want to withdraw her statement for Robbie's benefit but
instead to find favour with her sister and to reassemble her previous
family life:

" 'I don't expect you to forgive me.'

'Don't worry about that", she said soothingly, Briony flinched as her
hopes lifted unreally. 'Don't worry', her sister resumed. ' I won't
ever forgive you.'

The climax to the scene comes when Robbie makes his presence known to
Briony. Robbie and Cecelia tell Briony that she has to tell everyone
what she did. She agrees then says,

" 'I'm very sorry.'

Robbie said softly, ' Just do all the things we asked.'

It was almost…