Atonement - the Unrealiable Narrator

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Atonement – Analytical Essay

Ian McEwan 's ambitious and prize-winning novel, Atonement follows the actions of a young girl, Briony Tallis, who witnesses an event which she knows holds some kind of significance. Yet her limited understanding of adult motives leads her to co¬¬mmit a crime that will change the lives of everyone involved. As she grows older, she begins to understand her actions and the grief that has been caused. The entire novel is an attempt of reconciliation that Briony undertakes, yet the reader does not realize this until the closing twenty pages. As one begins to understand the implications of this revelation, the credibility of her story is considerably weakened. However, is the power of the story diminished by the
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Yet, in her old age, Briony still appears to mask any feeling of wrongdoing or evasion. She even believes "I 've regarded it as my duty to disguise nothing – the names, the places, the exact circumstances-I put it all there as a matter of historical record." (P.349, Atonement). Indeed, her entire account is credible; even her vague recollection of her crime can be explained by her failing memory. "Her fiction was known for its amorality" (P.38, Atonement) is how our apparently unreliable narrator describes its author. And, for the most part, this is unquestionably true - the style of her writing appears to be a straightforward description, making no moral judgements and presenting the reader with only what appears to happen. However this seems to contradict her aim: how is it possible for her to atone for her crime without making a moral judgement? The strength of this point and, indeed, the entire story is considerably weakened and undermined by the fact that she ‘revises ' Cecilia and Robbie 's fate.

Nicholas Lezard summarises Atonement perfectly "It 's closing pages feel weightless, deliberately unsatisfactory compared to what has gone before, as if the beautiful, intricate crystal fabricated by McEwan were in fact no more than a bubble, to disappear at the end with a light pop and sense of

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