Atonement Summary

This essay sample on Atonement Summary provides all necessary basic information on this matter, including the most common “for and against” arguments. Below are the introduction, body and conclusion parts of this essay.

As stated by Geoff Dyer the opening of Ian McEwan’s Atonement “is almost perversely ungripping… ” Set to inform rather than attract the reader, the first chapter of the novel is seemingly boring and pointless, on first inspection. However on deeper analysis the opening is found to be effective in setting up the rest of the novel, and foreshadowing the tragic events that occur as a result of the crime committed on that hot summers day.

The focus of the opening chapter is to explore and describe the novels main character, Briony, and the aspects of her personality that lead to the novels conflict and heartbreak.

This chapter also introduces many of the novels other main characters and relates them to the novels key concerns. The most important function of the opening chapter is to explore the character of Briony.

From the opening sentence of the novel Briony is established as an imaginative and idealistic young girl, whose dedication to writing is lightly humoured by McEwan “the play was written in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch. The seriousness Briony sees in missing a “breakfast and a lunch” highlights a girlish innocence and naivety, which evidently fades as the novel progresses, and Briony’s views on life change. Up until this point Briony has lived a relatively protected life, away from the conflict of the outside world, giving Briony a sheltered view on life and relationships.

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Thesis Statement For Atonement

This sheltered view of relationships is shown in this chapter through the characters of her play ‘The Trials of Arabella’ in which the heroine marries her “medical prince on a ‘windy sunlit day in spring. ” To Briony the reality of some relationships, being conflict, heartbreak and possibly divorce, “belonged in the realm of disorder”, lost to the idea of a wedding and “a dizzy lifelong union. ” Her fantasies allow her to create any world she wants in which “falling in love could be achieved in a single word – a glance” and a “crisis in a heroine’s life could be made to coincide with hailstones. ” This perfectly created world that Briony has the ability to construct is what causes her inability to understand that real life cannot be constructed in the same way as her stories, and ultimately leads to conflict later in the novel.

As stated by McEwan earlier in the chapter “she did not have it in her to be cruel” however her ignorance of reality and her passion for fantasies lead to the crime for which she must spend the rest of her life atoning for. The major problems in the novel occur due to Briony’s adult ambition to write stories competing with her child-like love of fantasies and being the centre of attention. This is shown when McEwan describes the steps Briony takes before allowing her finished pieces of writing to be read “only when a story was finished, all fates resolved and the whole matter sealed off at both ends … ould she … bind the chapters with a piece of string, paint or draw on the cover, and take the finished work to show her mother.

” Briony’s maturity in resolving “all fates” is contradicted by the child-like idea of painting “on the cover” and showing her mother her finished piece of work. This highlights the opening of the novel as a turning point for Briony in which she is beginning to experience the adult world, as her mother recognises “ah, that hot smooth little body she remembered from its infancy, and still not gone from her, not quiet yet. The arrival of her fifteen year-old cousin, Lola, furthers Briony’s transition into adulthood, as Lola’s sophisticated and mature appearance gives “Briony a constricting sensation around her sternum. ”

This is symbolic of the maturity in which Briony wishes she has, the maturity to take control of situations like Lola controls the twins, and the maturity to be treated as and look like an adult. Briony feels patronised by “Cecilia’s enthusiasm” which she sees “tainted with condescension” and victimised by “the advance of Lola’s dominion. It is here, however, in the midst of her longing to become an adult that Briony slips back into her child-like self-pity and fantasises “to run away, eat berries … and be found by a bearded woodsman one winters daw, curled up at the base of the giant oak, beautiful and dead, and barefoot, or perhaps wearing the ballet pumps” the addition of the ballet pumps, a child’s addition,confirming Briony as being not yet prepared for the adult world. In addition to the above themes of fantasies and growing up, it is through Briony that McEwan introduces the idea of marriage and the importance of social class.

Briony’s portrayal of marriage and love in her stories is representative of societies expectations at that point in time. As shown through ‘The Trials of Arabella’ it was not socially acceptable to fall in love with “a wicked foreign count” (or a man of lower social status) and family would only approve of “a wedding with the medical prince” (or a man of equal or greater social status). Furthermore, as Briony reflects on divorce later in the chapter, as “an affliction” which “she did not regard as a proper subject” and “a mundane unravelling that could not be reversed” she mirrors society’s views on divorce.

It is evident that divorce is a rarely spoken of subject in the upper-class society in which the novel is set, which is why the arrival of “the cousins from the north” evokes very little sympathy in Briony. Briony’s opinions and characters though representative of the views and values of the entire society, more accurately represent the Tallis household. It is suggested later in the novel that the cause of the father, Jack Tallis’ continued absence may be due to an affair, however Emily Tallis rejects this idea preferring not “to know why Jack spent so may executive nights in London. This ignorance of her husband’s whereabouts is Emily’s attempt at avoiding conflict and her way of making her marriage appear normal and happy. Emily is the character in the novel most preoccupied with society and the appearance of normality.

This is reflected in the opening chapter when McEwan talks of her criticising “the impulsive behaviour of her younger sister and lament the situation of her three children” it is through this that she expresses her views on the ideal family being free of conflict when she states the children can stay “provided, the parents … ept their quarrels away from the house. ” However Emily is so preoccupied with her illness and having her house appear normal that she does not take the time to properly acknowledge Briony. The exception being when she reads Briony’s stories/plays, for which Briony is “the project’s highest point of fulfilment. ” It is this longing and love of attention from her family that spurs Briony’s passion for storytelling and fantasies and ultimately leads to the conflict that occurs in the chapters that follow.

Geoff Dyers comment that “the opening is almost perversely ungripping… ” is true of the first chapter of Atonement, to an extent. Though the opening appears dull and unlike the expected introduction of a novel, it is, upon closer analysis and effective way of setting up the rest of the novel. Particularly through its exploration of the main character, Briony and her connection to the other characters and the novels key concerns.

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Atonement Summary. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Atonement Summary
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