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English Literature - Atonement (Essay 1)

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Introduction

By analysing two passages from Atonement, consider ways in which McEwan presents the transition between the child and adult world The prime method by which McEwan presents the transition between the child and adult world in Atonement is through specific focus on the behaviour and motivations of one character, Briony Tallis. Taking a psychological and personal approach, McEwan addresses the complexities of adolescence, "the ill-defined transitional space between the nursery and adult worlds"1, and the various archetypal effects, usually of a sexual nature, that affect a child with little or no experience of adult life. Briony, it would seem, is a character trapped in a bubble, who requires the intervention of internal and external forces in order to break into the world of adulthood. The two passages selected specifically show the distinction - or, indeed, lack of - between child and adult Briony, her coming to being and her realisation of the 'crime' "for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone"2. Part One mainly concerns McEwan developing a prevailing aura of obscurity and anticipation, with young Briony having intercepted a vulgar letter that she believes confirms Robbie Turner as a 'maniac'. The Part focuses on two differing viewpoints; those of Briony and the rest of the world; dropping her in solitude. ...read more.

Middle

Is Briony contrastingly trying to repress her adolescent sexual urges? Could these said urges be for Robbie? It can also be questioned whether Briony's intentions lie predominantly with the view to portraying her 'adulthood' instead of actually growing up. "The desire to share a secret and show the older girl that she too had worldly experiences"11 gives the reader two things; one being that McEwan makes specific reference to Lola as 'the older girl', most probably to prove Briony's aspirations and potential mannerisms. Ironically, Lola's confidence in Briony's accusation of Robbie, for whatever reason, displays a somewhat immature mindset in Lola. The quote also amplifies her misguidance - Briony, in relative terms, does not have 'worldly experiences', and "guiding Lola to the basin"12 does not particularly show or affect whether she does or does not. Another interesting line, "they're just little kids"13, continues to hint that Briony is anticipating, or is at least trying to portray, this impending change, presenting herself as a responsible adult, disconnected from childhood, in front of a girl who she might even aspire to be like. Moving on, the second passage (pages 341-2) concerns Briony's visit to Cecilia - a whole five years after her 'crime'. This scene was, however, entirely constructed by the "writer-director"14 Briony in her formulation of Parts One, Two and Three - it never took place. ...read more.

Conclusion

She is "the prime example of the way art shapes her life as much as she shapes that life into her art"27. Having been a young girl with a restricted view of the world and a na�ve mindset she has - albeit slowly - come to realise the consequences of her 'crime' and tried to amend them. The 'worldly experiences' have taken their toll and given Briony a chance to atone. 1 Atonement p.141 2 Back page, Atonement, Vintage Books, 2002 3 Atonement p. 163 4 Atonement p. 163 5 Atonement p. 5 6 Ian McEwan, The Guardian, 13 October 2001 7 Atonement p. 371 8 Atonement p. 119 9 Brian Finney, Briony's Stand Against Oblivion: Ian McEwan's Atonement, 2002 10 Atonement p. 119 11 Atonement p. 119 12 Atonement p. 118 13 Atonement p. 118 14 Atonement p. 12 15 John Mullan, The Guardian, 19 March 2003 16 John Mullan, The Guardian, 19 March 2003 17 Brian Finney, Briony's Stand Against Oblivion: Ian McEwan's Atonement, 2002 18 David Wiegand, Stumbling into Fate: Accidents and choices trip up the characters in Ian McEwan's new novel, 10 March 2002 19 Atonement p. 341 20 Atonement p. 167 21 Atonement p. 342 22 Atonement p. 342 23 Atonement p. 342 24 Atonement p. 342 25 Atonement p. 341 26 Atonement p. 342 27 Brian Finney, Briony's Stand Against Oblivion: Ian McEwan's Atonement, 2002 ?? ?? ?? ?? 1,486 words, candidate number 5635 1 ...read more.

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3 star(s)

Response to the question

This essay responds well to the question. The extracts chosen are great examples, as they offer plenty of techniques which can be analysed to build a strong and convincing argument. I would've liked to have seen some engagement with what ...

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Response to the question

This essay responds well to the question. The extracts chosen are great examples, as they offer plenty of techniques which can be analysed to build a strong and convincing argument. I would've liked to have seen some engagement with what the child and adult world consist of. An exploration of whether these worlds are bound by age, experience, or otherwise would be relevant here. Innocence and experience are phrases which are often used when discussing Atonement, and I feel this could've been used well in the argument. There is some discussion of why McEwan has presented this transition, but I feel this essay could've gone further to explore the effect this presentation has.

Level of analysis

The analysis here is good. I would've liked to have seen more paragraphs like the one regarding the 'power' of language. This paragraph makes some perceptive comments about McEwan's technique, and I would note that mentioning metafiction would make this point more sophisticated. I like this paragraph as it focuses explicitly on a specific technique, whereas the other paragraphs don't have this sharp focus. Comments such as "Briony, in relative terms, does not have ‘worldly experiences’" are fine, but I feel as if the point ends there. If I were writing this essay, I would be discussing what effect this has upon the reader's perception of Briony's character, and why her narrative position affects this disposition. Examiners want to see why techniques are used, rather than simply stating they are there. There is a wide knowledge of the text shown here, but I feel as if this essay simply retells the plot sometimes. It is key at A-Level that you are explicit with how McEwan is shaping the story through his narrative, as you will not be credited for narrating the plot.

Quality of writing

This essay seems to reference every time they have quoted the book in a footnote. This is highly unnecessary at A-Level. Quotes which are from other critics or articles, such as Brian Finney, should be in footnotes. On this note, the inclusion of such critical interpretations is excellent here. Examiners will be looking at how you evaluate the reception of texts, looking at arguments which are weaker and those which are stronger. This essay does this well, and is a great example of not overloading on critics which are irrelevant. This essay has a strong introduction, but as mentioned above I feel the other paragraphs aren't focused enough on the question. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are fine.


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Reviewed by groat 22/04/2012

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