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Explore the consequences of Hanna and Brionys pivitol actions on a range of other characters in The Reader and Atonement

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Introduction

Explore the consequences of Hanna and Briony's pivitol actions on a range of other characters in 'The Reader' and 'Atonement' 'The Reader' and 'Atonement' are novels written retrospectively with World War Two being a motif in both, despite both authors existing during the 21st Century. This allows us to consider the actions and consequences of the protagonists, and the ways in which they would have been perceived in the 1940's in comparison to the contemporary. 'The Reader' is a German novel written by Bernhard Schlink translated into English. It follows a generally linear, sequential narrative, enabling us to follow the omniscient narrator on a journey through his life, however, flashbacks and after thoughts is often used as a form of rising action allowing us to consider the changing perceptions towards an action. Dissimilarly, McEwan initiates modernism in 'Atonement' by challenging the typical linear context by using more than one narrative voice, skewing the viewpoint. The structure is deceptive as it includes a meta-narrative in the form of the epilogue and our discovery of Briony as the ultimate narrator causes us to re-evaluate what we have read. There are two pivotal actions at the centre of 'Atonement'; the attack on Lola, and Briony's act of bearing false witness; accusing Robbie of the crime. Only the second is of interest as the rape is a shadowy event, deliberately never clearly investigated, as to not expose the true assailant. This provides the ambiguity needed to read the novel with a profound sense of doubt. ...read more.

Middle

Michael chooses to blame himself for Hanna's imprisonment, and is comparable to Robbie's own delirious ramblings about guilt in 'Atonement'. 'We'll sleep it off Briony', indicates he holds himself as guilty as he believes her to be, and both Robbie and Michael demonstrate the realistic evocation of how people in traumatic situations often feel responsible for the actions of others. Just as Michael suffers from guilt in remaining silent, in 'Atonement', both Paul and Lola are guilty of allowing innocent Robbie to be imprisoned. Although McEwan never directly reflects on any guilt felt by them, their charitable donations (all relating to interests of Robbie) and robust defence of themselves suggest they feel guilty for their treachery, and are attempting to make amends for their mistake. Though it can be argued that the marriage between Paul and Lola is one of tradition and love, it is notable that there are no positive depictions of marriage throughout the novel, and McEwan insinuates the matrimony is almost a certain way of keeping Paul's crime a secret. The ceremony is uncharacteristically discreet and although this can be argued to be due to of wartime shortages, it suggests the marriage is more an exercise in damage limitation and guilt rather than an expression of true love. In old age, Lola has a formidable energy and 'terrible agility' that is perhaps born of decades guilt from denying the secret at the heart of her marriage. Ironically, though Paul is morally undeserving of the social advantage he enjoys, he is ennobled, becoming Lord Marshall by the end of his life. ...read more.

Conclusion

Michael has accepted the situation, but will never truly be free of it, as the consequences of Hanna's actions remain with him forever. Hanna's attempt to atone for her involvement in the war are established by her donation to the last surviving relative of the fire, and Michael enables her to do so by visiting the Jewish woman in New York. She however is unable to provide the absolution Hanna seeks as she refuses the money, but instead suggests donation to a fitting charity. Michael chooses a Jewish charity which combats illiteracy, and in doing so has granted Hanna atonement, in hope that the setback which once forced her to join the SS will not impede on other lives. In both novels, guilt is shown to be the greatest consequence of Hanna and Briony's actions, and McEwan and Schlink use the subject of war to demonstrate this. Just as all of the characters in 'Atonement' suffer due to Briony's accusation in part one, the whole of society lost out from the war- from the civilians killed in air raids, to the young women such as Briony who lost their youth and optimism to the gruesome task of nursing the wounded. Despite Schlink focusing on the consequences of conflict on the post-war generation, the message conveyed in both novels are similar: the effects of war are not limited to it's direct participants, but rather the whole society is guilty of allowing the war to happen, and it is only when the country confronts their past, atonement, a 'positive consequence' can be obtained. 'The Reader' and 'Atonement' force us to delve into our own consciences and consider the consequences our actions have not only on us, but also those around us. ...read more.

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