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Atonement: Figurative Language and Irony

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Dominic Tran

on 26 September 2013

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Transcript of Atonement: Figurative Language and Irony

Atonement: Figurative Language and Irony
“She felt in the top right corner of her brain a heaviness, the inert body weight of some curled and sleeping animal… It bore her no malice, this animal, it was indifferent to her misery. It would move as a caged panther might…” (McEwan 60).

“…There was a little squeal of laughter abruptly smothered. Lola then, in the nursery with Paul Marshall… This wealthy young entrepreneur might not be such a bad sort, if he was prepared to pass the time of day entertaining children” (McEwan 66).
**The twins are being bathed by Betty (McEwan 65) while Lola and Paul Marshall are alone in the nursery. This scene implies that Lola consents to sex with Paul Marshall, thus resulting in her injuries.

“…Migraine, mother love and, over the years, many hours of lying still on her bed, had distilled from this sensitivity a sixth sense, a tentacular awareness that reached out from the dimness and moved through the house, unseen and all-knowing” (McEwan 630).
**Emily’s motherly sixth sense is compared to tentacles moving throughout the house. She desires to be the heart of her household--to be aware of everything that goes on at home.

“Poor darling Briony, the softest little thing, doing her all to entertain her hard-bitten wiry cousins with the play she had written from her heart” (McEwan 62).

Although the migraine confines Emily like a “caged panther” (McEwan 60), she still wants to maintain a maternal involvement in her household. Yet the most she’s done so far is order a roast, but even that was not a proper decision because “it would be too stifling to eat” (McEwan 61). This gives the reader some insight as to how detached Emily is to her role as a maternal figure. Next, she claims “the less she was able to do, the more she was aware;” (McEwan 63) however, this proves dramatically ironic because Emily is oblivious to what Lola and Paul Marshall are actually doing in the nursery (McEwan 66). Once again, Emily’s “unseen and all-knowing” sixth sense is proving to be unqualified as motherly traits. Another misconception Emily has is of Brionny. Similar to her naivety towards Paul Marshall, she also sees Brionny as her helpless and innocent daughter.
"As for Lola . . . she was, still as lean and fit as a racing dog, and still faithful" (337).
"I thought there was a touch of the stage villain here—the gaunt figure, the black coat, and lurid lips. A cigarette holder, a lapdog tucked under one arm and she could have been Cruella De Vil." (338).
"Near on eighty years old, and still wearing high heels. They clicked on the pavement with the sound of a younger woman's stride" (338).

As Briony sits in her taxi cab, she notices the Marshalls coming out of one their museums. She sees Paul Marshall and describes him as "doddery" and "flat-footed", signifying how time has had its toll on him; he is weak and death is inevitable. On the other hand, Lola is depicted as being "lean and fit as a race dog" and would certainly outlive Briony. The fact that Briony compares Lola to Cruella De Vil highlights the fact that as Paul Marshall grows old and weak, Lola remains lively and strong. An element of vampirism is present, since Lola is living off of Marshall's wealth and success while he slowly dies. This is ironic because in the beginning of the novel, Paul Marshall took advantage of Lola and now the tables have turned; she is slowly sucking the life out of him. In addition, Lola's heels, "clicked on the pavement clicked on the pavement with the sound of a younger woman's stride" (338). Her strong steps reaffirms Briony's conclusion that she will not be able to outlive Lola and publish her 77 year old assignment while Lola is still alive. Since Paul Marshall is described as "flatfooted" while Lola is wearing high heels, it shows how she is now much higher than him and has just used him like a stepping stone.

Robbie and Cecilia
Group 7: Dominic Tran, Liza Nguyen, Judy Tsan, Michelle Nguyen
Bedroom description pgs 4-
Dinner Scene
Dramatic Irony: This scene has an element of dramatic irony because it is right after the library scene. The characters who are dining at the table have no idea what events have taken place prior to the dinner.
" 'Well then . . . What do you think, Cee? Have you behaved even worse than usual today?" - Leon pg120.
"I've done nothing wrong today." -Briony pg121
Verbal Irony: Cecilia is extremely wary during the dinner because she feels vexed against Briony for interrupting her and Robbie.
". . . and the answer is yes. I behaved very badly. I persuaded Emily against her will that we should have a roast in your honor, regardless of the weather. Now you're sticking to the salad while the rest of us are suffering. . ." - Cecilia pg 121

Briony at the Hospital
Simile: The young nurses- in- training convince themselves that the empty beds in the hospital are due to soldiers recovering and being released. However, the truth eventually dawns on them that the soldiers are dying quickly, leaving behind their “empty beds spread across the ward, and through other wards, like deaths in the night (Ewan 254)”. Their blind optimism parallels Briony’s naivety as a child, who thought that she was actually helping Cecilia by sending Robbie to jail, similar to how the young nurses thought their attendance to the soldiers were saving their lives. The empty beds conveying death also contributes to the hopeless, dark mood of the story because of the war.

Metaphor: During her training at the hospital, Briony witnesses the damages that war can do to a person. Seeing the soldiers mutilated by bombings, gunshots, and infection causes her to arrive at the sad conclusion that “a person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn, not easily mended.” Briony works as a nurse to try to heal these men’s wounds, but knows that they will never fully recover or will bear scars as visible as the stitching on a piece of mended cloth. She cannot fully help these soldiers, like how she cannot fully atone for her mistakes.

McEwan heavily employed imagery in describing Cecilia and Briony’s repective rooms in the Tallis house. While Cecilia’s room is “a stew of unclosed books, unfolded clothes, unmade bed, [and] unemptied ashtrays”, Briony’s room is described as “harmonious” and “organized”, with her “straight-backed dolls…under strict instruction” on her dresser. The juxtaposition between Cecilia’s disorderliness and Briony’s neatness stresses Briony’s strive for a perfect, however unrealistic world. For example, the dolls on her dresser are metaphorically compared to soldiers completely controlled by Briony, like “a citizen’s army waiting for orders”. But as she progresses into adulthood, she realizes that she cannot control every aspect of her world, which is demonstrated by her tending the soldiers, not dolls, in the hospital scene in Part III: “Of course they should sleep. She had only wanted to do what she thought was expected. These weren’t her rules, after all." No matter how much she wants to perfect her world, she cannot change the rules of the real world, and by attempting to do so may make things more chaotic.

Situation: While Briony searches for the twins outside, she sees through her mother’s bedroom window what appears to be a disembodied, levitating leg.
Similarly, Robbie encounters an actual severed leg of a child displayed as a war trophy in a tree.
Significance: The illusion of the floating leg represents Briony’s confusion of the adult sexual world. Her inability to comprehend the adult world causes her to invent a story in her mind that Robbie had raped Lola at the temple, which was as false as the illusion of the disembodied leg. Contrastingly, Robbie encounters a real severed leg of an infant, revealing the brutality of war and the reality of the consequences of Briony’s imaginative lies. In addition, the fact that Briony was a child looking at an adult’s leg and Robbie was an adult looking at a child’s leg provides further juxtaposition and reinforces the theme of the loss of innocence: Briony loses her innocence as she becomes lost in a world of adult sexuality and Robbie loses his innocence when he has his the rest of his life taken away by him because of the war and Briony's false accusations against him.

juxtaposition: "When the wounded were screaming, you dreamed of sharing a little house somewhere, of an ordinary life, a family line, connection" (227).

As Robbie traverses across the battlefield in France, he is faced with death and suffering. However, he dreams of a better life, one that he clings onto as his motivation for fighting in the war. Robbie longs to return to Cecilia and is willing to face any adversity that stands in his way. His dreams and aspirations overshadows his challenges, but sadly, he never got to fulfill this dream due to septicemia. Briony incorporates this passage into the novel to portray how the war can ruin people's lives but not their dreams. She fulfills Robbie's dream in Atonement by having him return to Cecilia in part4.
Situational irony: At the end of part 4, Briony reveals to the readers that Cecilia's and Robbie's reunion never occurred. Briony wants their love to live on through her novel even though they never got to see each other after the war. She believes it is the least she could do as part of her atonement and as "God". She provides her two lovers with something that they could not accomplish when they were alive: fullfilment of their love.
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