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Atonement by Ian McEwan Analysis

An analysis on the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan

Lauren Chartuk

on 26 April 2013

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Transcript of Atonement by Ian McEwan Analysis

Atonement Ian McEwan The Conflict against War,
McEwan's Bias Importance of POV A Glimmer of Hope Philosophy of Novel War Bias against War Robbie Turner Maturing Plot The Plot Crossroad Pathetic Plot The Intricate Development of Two Plots within
Atonement Briony growing up throughout the plot, learning from her horrible lie she told as a little girl. Ian McEwan created the two plots playing out together
as a way to hide his other wise blatant social commentary. Throughout the book, Robbie goes through a serious character change, for the worse. The point of view was third person, omniscient and also limited. McEwan created the main character to be a soldier fighting the onset symptoms of PTSD. At the very end of the book Briony, at 77, reveals that Robbie Turner and Cecilia Tallis died during and due to the war, never getting the time together "they both so longed for". The Barren Wasteland of War Synopsis A little girl Briony Tallis misinterprets a romantic encounter between her sister, Cecilia Tallis and the landscaper Robbie Turner. She then lies, accusing Robbie of a sexual assault and then sends him to prison and eventually war. War tears apart Robbie and Cecilia, during the 1940s. While Robbie and Cecilia are apart Briony is constantly withholding herself from enjoying life as a way of atoning. Briony never gets a chance at atoning for her lie because war kills the two lovers before she ever works up the courage to contact to them. Briony struggles through coming to term with her lie, while Robbie struggles through the brutality of war. By 18 years old, Briony has realized what her lie has caused and is constantly trying to make up for it, she starts writing autobiographies telling the truth but can't bring herself to finish it until she is 77 years old. The maturing plot going on in Atonement shows Briony transform from a naive young child into a forgiveness begging adult. Robbie is thrown into war by Briony's lie, at that point he lost all control of his destiny. He stumbles through the war with the constant thought of Cecilia and possibly being able to reunite with her at the end. His hope for him and Cecilia, gives the reader hope that he will make it out and be with his love, however the glimmer of hope is short lived and quickly torn apart by their deaths due to war. Robbie was killed and, in a way tortured by war, and Ian McEwan carries out his social commentary on the fact that war ruins lives and controls a destiny that ends in death The maturing plot is the distractor to the more important one within the novel, the pathetic plot. The Pathetic plot is what holds McEwan's social commentary and is what plays out the degradation of Robbie Turner. During Robbie's story the author is able to interject his own opinions and bias against war. The flow and horrible events in Robbie's plot allows McEwan to touch on the emotional and human side
of PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Atonement In part one, Robbie is a well mannered, polite young man who has a promising future and a crush on his employers daughter, Cecilia. Part one was a way for the author to fully characterize Robbie as the polite young man he is as well as build his relationship with Cecilia. Part one however, was just the build up and a back story to Part two. The reader comes in media res to World War II where Robbie is fighting in France. The abrupt tonal change to Pragmatic shows Robbie's newly developed detachment and desensitization As he continues through war Robbie becomes more and more distant. Robbie was created to produce sympathy from the reader however the author did not have a necessarily positive bias he was neutral toward Robbie's thoughts and actions but his indirect characterization made him relatable without there being a bias. McEwan puts Robbie against war in order to create the commentary that war can destroy even the best of men. War is McEwan's antagonist in Atonement, it caused destruction not only in Robbie's life but every other character's life in the book. Each character had their own personal battle with war and every one of them lost. McEwan's commentary that there is no winning against war. Whenever war was referenced or there was a scene involving just war, it was inherently violent and gruesome. "Twenty men in the back of a three-ton lorry killed with a single bomb. Meanwhile he had cowered in a ditch with his head in a culvert and caught the shrapnel in his side." (Atonement, page 205) The pragmatic description of the scene allows the reader to feel detached and reflects the feelings of Robbie and shows how desensitized war can make a human become. The author also used the time period to make an argument against war, Instead of doing a time when war was victorious, he chose a time when a lot of war efforts failed and ended in millions of deaths, like Dunkirk. McEwan also touches on the corruptive power war possessed showing its struggle to change Robbie and using miscellaneous soldiers as examples of the degrading state war can put men in. The author had an obvious bias against war, as evident in his relentless put downs on war. He never showed war to be necessary for the good. In McEwan's writing shows an obvious bias against war through the epigrams he adds through Robbie's thoughts, the time period and his portrayal of Robbie's character changes. "Before prison, before the war before the sight of a corpse became a banality." (Atonement, 213) An epigram from McEwan brought into light through Robbie's thoughts McEwan put the setting in WWII during Dunkirk, a time when a war effort failed and caused extensive damage and destruction to war paraphernalia, towns and ultimately people. The setting was chosen as a way to show war in one of its worse times as a point that there is never a good time during war. McEwan also used the tonal shifts in the book to show Robbie's emotion which parallels the emotional changes within a soldier with PTSD which the author was obviously relating Robbie to. McEwan's bias against war was made clear through the foil to war, Robbie. The novel shows the horrors of war hoping to show society the truth in war and how easily it can change good men. War was shown in such a gruesome reality that it served as a shocking wake up call to readers as to the horrors soldiers experience. The philosophy was not a positive one and was very shocking and emotional for the reader. McEwan didn't give hope outside of the idea that this wouldn't happen if there was no war. However he does not offer a suggestion on how to prevent war. He does, however, offer a slight glimmer of hope about internal peace possibly being the only solution to ending war. How McEwan Did It Each chapter "followed" a different character giving their view of certain events. A very important aspect of Atonement. The most important point of view was Robbie's because the P.O.V. he used allowed him the ability to add the epigraphs he used to show his social commentary. The point of view also made clear the defining moment when Briony misinterpreted the event between Robbie and Cecilia. The third person point of view also helped to distant the reader from the terrible war scenes by keeping a detached tone and not having the emotional impact that first person would have. However being omniscient still allows the reader to know how Robbie feels. Robbie constantly sees terrible sights in war and it begins to haunt his dreams. "She knew exactly what images were flooding into his head. Come back, Come back to me." (Atonement, page 297) McEwan was making the commentary about the brutality of war and how it can completely traumatize soldiers. He used Robbie to show how traumatizing and terrifying war can be. The author offers the only way to help stop PTSD is to die before it can fully take you over. Robbie struggled with it and died before he lost the battle. The battle McEwan suggests is impossible to win. Briony also reveals that she has been writing their story truthfully as a way to atone for her lie that caused them to never be together. In her book she put the couple together as a way to make up for the fact that she tore them apart. She considered it a final act of kindness and she had given up trying to get forgiveness, she realized it wasn't possible. Her final realization that she could not atone for her sin did not bring sorrow but instead a sense of peace and resolution. This carries a deeper meaning within the context of the war. McEwan juxtaposed love and war, love lost leaving the reader feeling hopeless. However Briony's revelations at the end shows that inner peace is stronger than forgiveness and can end in the resurrection of love. This serves as an allegory to the idea that if society finds inner peace then war will be non existent and everyone will have their own peace.
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